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






Market Monday: Exploring a Virginia Farmer’s Market

It was so hot this weekend visiting the Virginia Meads that even the chocolate nor the doughnut sellers decided not to go the farmer’s market in Falls Church this weekend. There are 50 vendors at the market during the height of the season, so there were plenty of other vendors did show up, giving us plenty to choose from among the tomatoes, peaches, berries, cheeses, baked goods, organic meat producers and flowers that braved the 90-degree temps at 9 a.m.

imageWe arrived when it was a few degrees cooler at, oh 86 degrees a little before 8 a.m. By the time we left, it was too hot to even consider making any more decisions.
The stories of most of the vendors are fascinating. There’s the baker from Paris, Bonaparte Breads, of Savage, Maryland, who had exquisite pastries. The pane au chocolate were perfect, but she had selections that included multi-berry tarts, a blueberry and peach tart, quiche, almond croissant and lots of beads. I think standing in the sun for this alone was worth it.

Then there was Chris’ Marketplace, sellers of the most divine crab cakes. Chris Hoge, chef and owner, has been written up in Saveur, Gourmet and the Washingtonian. A fisherman who has worked the entire East Coast and down into the islands, says his secret was a sauce that accidentally fell into a plate of crab. The resulting seasoning was so perfect that is the reason for his success, he said. He’s got a second business going as well, making sopas from a traditional Mexican corn. He didn’t have any samples this weekend.
My sister-in-law Jenna picked up a bottle of wine from North Gate Vineyard, based in Loudoun County, Virginia. We talked wines, including Presque Isle Vineyards. it is a small world. Owned by Mark and Vicki Fedor, North Gate became a fully licensed Farm Winery in 2007. They produced their first grapes in 2002. An interesting dry wine they suggested was the Rkatsiteli, (you pronounce the “R”), which originated in the Republic of Georgia. A crisp white, it would be delish in the summer.
In addition to the fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers, we appreciated the prepared foods, which solved the dinner problem before I had finished my second cup of coffee. Cold Pantry Foods had a half-dozen types of frozen pizza to buy. The owners, Bob and Carol Vogel, started in business by selling pestos. But pesto is a limited product – so they use the pesto in all of their pizzas, which have a broader appeal.
We finished at a stop at Cavanna Pasta, which had a super array of homemade pastas. If I wasn’t traveling to Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon, I probably would have brought a cooler full to take home. We settled on the sausage tortellini and containers of homemade vodka sauce and a ragu.


imageAmong the other highlights were Sexy Vegie, out of Baltimore, which offered lots of hummus along with salads. I bought a beet and apple salad, which would have been great topped with some local goat cheese from a nearby vendor (Sexy Vegie is vegan). Alas, I left before I could enjoy it, but I’m hoping to recreate it later this summer.
Finally, I will get to taste the wares of Stachowski Brand Charcuterie, from the D.C. Metro Area, because Jenna bought some lamb sausage to bring to Erie at the end of this week for my father.

While hot, this was a great way to get a taste of this region of Virginia and have an easy dinner at the same time. Kudos to the folks in Falls Church.
Erie, are you listening?
With all of the bounty of the region, why is it so hard for Erie County to coordinate this effort. I would think as part of the Health Department war on diabetes and obesity, this could be a worthwhile project.
I am in Philadelphia this week watching the Democratic National Convention and will post more from the other end of our state.
In the meantime, this is one of my favorite summer recipes that was inspired by Martha Stewart.

Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad

3 ears of cooked corn, kernels removed
2 cups sliced grape, cherry or other small tomatoes
2 to 3 tablespoons finely diced red onion or 2 green onions, sliced
1 avocado, seed removed, and diced
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 jalapeño, finely chopped (optional)

In a medium bowl, toss tomatoes with lime juice and salt and allow to sit for about 15 minutes to draw out the juices. Add remaining ingredients and serve.


Stay cool. Eat local.




Market Monday: Up on Blueberry Hill

blueberry pickingThe blueberries were ripe for picking at Conn’s Blueberry Farm, which opened on Friday, in North East. Saturday dawned overcast, perfect for picking, and I headed out at 8 a.m. in 70-degree weather for the 30 minute drive.

You can choose from 3- or 5-quart buckets ($3 a quart), which you then tie around your waist or hang around your neck (waist is easier for me) to pick. About 10 other families were already in field, which opened at 8 a.m.

Overheard while picking:

Small child 1: Mom!!! M, put a blueberry up my butt!

Small child 2: Mom!!! M hit me with the bucket!

M: Mom!!! Look at all the green ones I picked!

Needless to say, it was a family affair out there.

Mom promised a blueberry buckle if everyone would just behave (and stop picking the green ones).

blueberry tree

In a half hour, I had 8 quarts – more than enough to make my mother’s birthday blueberry pie. I paid, put them in my own container for transport home. Alas, NPR had nothing to soothe me on such a delightful morning what with all the shootings and bombings and crazy people driving trucks into crowds in Nice on Bastille Day, which is my nephew’s birthday. This is all just terrible, but I would prefer to think of the lovely market I visited in Nice and had a coffee in the square after shopping. This begs the question of whether you take your children overseas to see these beautiful spots or do you let the terror win.

This was not a question I can answer right now. If it was just me – I am OK to go. I am 53 years old and can make that decision for myself. But there was a 9-year-old American boy who was killed, along with his father, in the Nice attack. And that is not OK.

And all of this has nothing to do with blueberries, but that is what happens when you spend 30 minutes driving each way to go pick fresh produce. So I decided to listen to Oprah and Deepak help me meditate on becoming unstuck in life. They are very calming, BTW.

I also bake to relieve stress. I made some modifications to Smitten Kitchen’s Blueberry Crumb Cake.  If you click, you get their recipe. My changes involve adding buttermilk instead of plain milk, lemon extract instead of vanilla and adding walnuts to the crumb topping instead of putting them in the cake. I also bake it in a loaf pan, instead of a cake pan, because I like the square slices. I like crunch on top of my cakes, not in the middle of the delicate crumb. This is best eaten warm, or the day of baking.

blueberry crumb cake

Blueberry Crumb Cake

Crumb topping

4 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup  granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon (or a couple of good gratings) of ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

In a food processor or blender, pulse together all the ingredients except the butter until crumbly. Add the butter and just pulse to combine. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
1 teaspoon lemon extract
240 grams of all-purpose flour (measurement is important in this recipe – if you don’t have a scale, this is about 2 level cups unsifted flour, minus 1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 pint fresh blueberries

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a loaf pan.

Using an electric mixer, cream butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and lemon extract. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Alternately add dry ingredients and buttermilk until incorporated (2 to 3 additions of each). Do not over mix. Fold in blueberries. Scrape batter into pan. Top with crumb topping.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean (don’t worry about blueberry marks on the tester, just look for batter sticking to it).

Remove from oven, cool and serve.

Happy picking (or just plain eating).










Escape with al Fresco Dinner

outdoor dining at Ian's

Some nights are just meant for cocooning with family. Sometimes it’s your family. Sometimes it is an adopted or blended family. In any case, escaping from the craziness that summer, racism, politics and general idiocy has bestowed upon us this month was just what was needed this week.

Escape meant retreating to city backyard, beautifully planted with selections from Stan’s and Potratz. We sat in wicker rockers and wrought iron purchased from the Erie City Mission. We talked politics, but were respectful of the opinions of those in the conversation. And we dined under the stars without interruptions from Baton Rouge, Dallas or Minnesota. No tweets from Donald Trump or FBI press conferences about Hillary Clinton. And no news alerts about Erie City Council’s lack of foresight or cohesion when it comes to a restaurant wanting to offer outdoor seating during the all-too-short summer season.

No, once the presidential politics were put aside, we talked about grandmothers, and toddlers, and photography, and high school, and fireworks, and birthday parties, and dinner.

Dinner was grilled prime beef tenderloin steaks from Urbaniak Brothers, wrapped in Urbaniak bacon, and topped with herb butter. Accompanying it was a Greek salad, which I learned to make from a Greek family on a Greek island. It had a few of my beginning-to-ripen yellow tomatoes and oregano, parsley and mint from the garden. Mixed with Bulgarian feta and olive oil wheat rusks from Cleveland’s West Side Market, the salad is tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. Fresh corn from Mason Farms, removed from the cob, was topped with just a pat or two of butter and served warm.

For dessert, I made a lemon and almond cake and served it with macerated berries and whipped cream. The employees at Mason Farms said there are only a couple days left for fresh strawberries, so I had to have some of those mixed in raspberries, which are now appearing. I added some sugar and very good balsamic vinegar to balance the sweetness.

Blueberries are appearing in area farm markets, but the blueberries from Conn’s Blueberry Farm North East are coming in a week or two (my favorite place to pick).

I hope you enjoy your weekend. Hug your loved ones. Be kind to one another.



almond and lemon curd tort

Almond Lemon Curd Cake with Berry Topping

Lemon Curd

  • Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons, about 6 tablespoons juice
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Make the lemon curd several hours in advance and refrigerate. If you don’t have time, you will need a large ice bath to cool it down. This will take about 30 minutes before you can add it to the cake.

Have a double boiler ready. Or find a pot and a metal bowl that fits into the top. Fill the pot with water to just below where it touches the bowl. If the bowl touches the bottom of the pot, this won’t work. You need at least an inch of water between the bowl and the bottom of the pot to prevent hot spots, which will scorch or lump.

While you are bringing the water to a boil, whisk together juice, zest, sugar and eggs. Place over the boiling water and whisk in the butter one cube at a time. You will continue whisking or using a spatula to keep the mixture moving until it thickens to the point where you can call it curd (think lemon pudding). Remove it from the heat. You can strain it, if you want. Or chill until ready to use.


  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tart pan with removable bottom or springform pan.

Cream butter and 1 cup sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Whisk together flours, baking powder and salt. Gradually beat into the sugar and butter mixture. Add beaten eggs and mix until just combined. Do not overmix.

Pour into the pan. Dollop 8 tablespoons of the lemon curd around the perimeter about 1 inch in from edge of the pan. Dollop another 3 to 4 tablespoons in the middle. Top with the toasted almonds and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake 40 minutes, until the top is brown and a tester inserted into the cake (not the curd) comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes before removing rim of the pan.

Serve with the berries and whipped cream.

Berry Topping

Mixed berries, totaling about 12 ounces (cut strawberries in half if large)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar

Combine at least 1 hour before serving. Let sit at room temperature.

Cake recipe is adapted from the New York Times.

Family Rooted in Revolutionary War

This year’s Fourth of July celebration has more meaning for me because I’ll be heading to Philadelphia later this month. I will be attending the Democratic National Convention as a guest, and in my free time I’ll be able to visit some meaningful sites, both historically and personally.

Capt. Samuel Morris – several greats ago on my mother’s side – was second lieutenant of the Light Horse of the City of Philadelphia (later became the First Troop Philadelphia City Calvary) and crossed the Delaware with Gen. George Washington, where he fought in the battle of Trenton in December 1776. He also fought in the battles of Princeton, Brandywine and Germantown.  A Quaker, he was “read out” (kicked out) for his military service, but continued to practice as Free Quakers, a group of about 200 Quakers who felt that the Revolution was too great to ignore ( and founded their own meeting house in Philadelphia.

This piece of American history has been in our family home for decades, but because it has become more significant to me this year because of the DNC being in Philadelphia this year and because I’ve been doing research on my mother’s family as part of the trip.

Capt. Sam, as he was known, apparently was quite the life of the party, having served as governor of the Schuylkill Fishing Company for much of his life (apparently when not fighting the British) and in the family’s brewing business.

This portrait doesn’t exactly show a cheery man, but here he is:

capt sam morris

Capt. Sam Morris (1734-1812). 

The Morris family, Quakers, came to the United States in the late 1600s after hearing about William Penn’s signed charter to settle lands in Pennsylvania. The family’s property eventually was inherited by  my great-grandmother, Marguerite (aka Nanny). Her husband published a book that contains a copy of Penn’s original charter of the land, which became known as Green Hill Farms. The property was sold in the 1950s after she became a widow. Part is now Philadelphia Friends Academy.

So I’ll be celebrating this Independence Day with this history lesson in mind, while also getting ready to uncover and witness more in Philadelphia later this month.

In between the research, I did manage to find a pie recipe to celebrate the Fourth in style. It’s very simple. The decorations are limited only by your skill with a can of whipped cream (do buy the real stuff, please).

The blueberries are cooked only for a couple of minutes, allowing the fresh flavor of the berry to dominate the flavor of the pie. Combined with a graham cracker crust, it has a nice texture to contrast with the berries.


fourth pie

Red, White and Blueberry Pie


11 graham crackers (2 1/2 x 5 inch boards), broken into pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional)


6 to 7 cups blueberries
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, about 1 tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/16 teaspoon ground nutmeg (about 6 to 8 scrapes of a nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Whipped cream

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the crust, in a food processor, pulse graham crackers until the size of pebbles. Add melted butter, sugar, salt and vanilla bean paste (optional). Pulse until combined. Press into the bottom of a tart pan or a 10-inch pie plate.

Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

To make the filling, place blueberries in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Combine orange juice and corn starch. Add to pan with blueberries, along with sugar, orange zest and salt. Bring to a simmer (just below a boil) and stir until thickened, just a minute or 3. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg and cinnamon. Pour into cooled crust.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. (If you make this first thing in the morning, it will be perfect by picnic time).

Before serving, decorate with whipped cream and berries.

Adapted from


Happy July Fourth




Berry Happy to See Summer

My favorite strawberry field opened for picking yesterday. I have been watching the little gems gradually take on their crimson hue. They are easy to grow yourself, I have a half-dozen plants, but the wildlife typically gets to them before I do.

Over the years, I have tried to encourage company on my outings to pick strawberries. I’ve dragged my daughter out on two or more occasions, but the heat, the bugs and the stooping aren’t her gig. They aren’t a lot of people’s gig, but I enjoy it. If I can wear jeans, then I’m down on my knees, which isn’t comfortable, but you can cover a lot of ground quickly. The mounds are protected by straw, so you need coverage. If it’s hot, I go for a tennis or running skirt (shorts included) and do the picking squat I learned from watching a lot of immigrant woman in the fields. Genetically, I’ve got the hands and feet for field work (country Irish), but I am several generations removed from the actual labor. Observation needed to be my teacher.

One of the first recipes I make with local berries is a tart with lemon curd. There are many variations on this approach depending on your time commitment and interest. The easiest is to buy a jar of lemon curd and a package of mini tart shells from the grocery store. Dollop some lemon curd into the shell and top with an inverted berry (like a pyramid).

tart shell

I always keep a box of these in my pantry. I prefer to make my own lemon curd (think of the filling in lemon bars) because I like mine on the tart side and I find commercial jars are too sweet. But it is a recipe that can go south on you quickly if you don’t pay attention to the double boiler.

You can top with any berry combination. The trick is to melt about a tablespoon of apricot jam in the microwave and mix it with the berries. That will make them glossy when you put them on top.

I recently tried a microwave lemon curd recipe I found on the New York Times site by “Microwave Gourmet” author Barbara Kafka:

  • ½ pound unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated or chopped lemon zest (typically 2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated or chopped orange zest, optional
  • 6 large eggs
  1. Place butter, sugar, lemon juice and zests in an 8-cup glass measure or a 2 1/2-quart soufflé dish. Cover tightly with microwave plastic wrap. Cook at 100 percent power in a 650- to 700-watt oven for 4 minutes. Prick plastic to release steam.
  2. Remove from oven and uncover. Whisk together eggs in a small bowl. Whisk about 1/4 cup of the butter mixture into the eggs to warm them. Scrape egg mixture back into measure, whisking constantly. Cook uncovered for 3 minutes.
  3. Leaving dish in oven, whisk until smooth. Cook, uncovered, for 2 minutes more. Remove from oven and puree in a food processor or blender until completely smooth. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


The recipe works, although you do have to see what power your microwave is and adjust. Mine is 1050 watts, but I couldn’t just reduce the time by one-third. The overall time remained almost the same, but it took a fair amount of watching.

I prefer Ina Garten’s recipe, which takes about 5 minutes longer.

3 lemons
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Remove the zest of 3 lemons, avoid the white pith. You can do this with a vegetable peeler. (I prefer to just zest the lemons). Put the zest in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely minced into the sugar.
Add the butter to the sugar and lemon mixture and pulse until light and creamy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Pulse until combined.
Pour into a 2-quart saucepan (it may look a curdled at this point, don’t worry). Cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. The lemon curd will thicken at about 170 degrees,  or just below simmer. A suggestion from says that this will take about 6 minutes. Look for the first bubble. Remove from the heat. Cool. Refrigerate in a glass jar or bowl, covered.

lemon curd tart with fruit

If you are inclined to make a full-sized tart, I’d recommend a shortbread crust, which is super easy and you don’t have to roll. You just press it in. I like this recipe from

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup powdered sugar

If you are using unsalted butter, which I typically do, you will need to add about 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together butter, flour, and powdered sugar (and salt if using unsalted butter). Press into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan, a pie plate, tart pan, or other pan for your baking.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

Remove from oven. Let cool completely before filling.


You can e-mail Marnie at

Memorial Day: 4 Make-Ahead Cakes

Memorial Day coincides with my birthday so I celebrate with a three-day sweet fest. My mother used to make the most creative birthday cakes, creating her own forms to cut out theme cakes (this is before Wilton made molded cake pans) and decorate them.

I was a vanilla girl. Vanilla ice cream. Vanilla cake. White frosting. That was me. Then one year, my mother made a chocolate Coca-Cola cake. I was done. I was chocolate forever after.

Here are four of my favorite recipes for cakes for Memorial Day weekend – whether you have a birthday to celebrate or a picnic.


Coca-Cola Cake, courtesy of

Coca-Cola Cake

The recipe is from the Coca-Cola website, courtesy of the Junior League of Atlanta. My mother made it pre-Internet so I’m even more impressed.

chocolate glazed tart

Chocolate tart with a caramel glaze. 

Chocolate Glazed Tart

This is a new addition to my recipe list, courtesy of It is incredibly rich. So rich, that I had to make it even more decadent by swapping out the chocolate glaze with a caramel. one. This is best made the morning of the day it is to be eaten. It’s pretty easy to make and you can either make your own caramel sauce or buy one.

Simple Salted Caramel Sauce

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put both sugars in the bottom of a medium-sized heavy saucepan with high sides over medium heat and melt sugar. Keep and eye on it so it doesn’t burn. This is where a rubber spatula with a 500-degree heat range will be your best friend. Once it has melted, carefully (because this will bubble up) add butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Use a whisk for this because you want to fully incorporate the butter. Once that is done, this takes 2-3 minutes, carefully pour in cold cream, which will also bubble up and spatter. Allow it to boil for about 1 minute and remove from heat. Whisk in salt and vanilla extract. Allow to cool. This can be stored in the refrigerator.

It will be hard to buy caramel sauce after you taste this.


One-Pan Chocolate Cake

I found this recipe on King Arthur Flour’s website and my daughter and I make it all the time. I love the intense chocolate flavor, which I think differentiates this recipe from a lot of other chocolate pan cakes. I love King Arthur’s triple cocoa blend (this is not a paid post). If you are using regular Dutch process cocoa, the addition of the espresso powder (found usually in the coffee aisle or international aisle of your grocery story) is a wonderful enhancer. I add it to almost all chocolate recipes. Add some sprinkles and it can be very festive and holiday appropriate (and who doesn’t love a few sprinkles on cake?).


This salted peanut tiramisu just needs to be finished off with a dusting of cocoa.


I have had really good tiramisu and really bad tiramisu (and made both).This salted peanut recipe from rocked my tiramisu world. I, too, missed texture in my tiramisu. I wanted a little crunch. Transforming regular salted peanuts into with a simple sugar glaze, rocked. The  peanuts from the Virginia branch of the family were particularly good (who knew there could be such a difference in peanuts). Indeed, I had to make extra because I kept nibbling at the sweet and salty nuts.

I will be experimenting with tiramisu more now – next up might be making some brittle and adding it. The only thing missing, for me, from the recipe, was some chocolate. So either dust with some cocoa powder, or, drizzle some chocolate sauce on top.

If you want a more traditional tiramisu, follow Mario Batali’s recipe. 

If you have a picnic this weekend, any one of these recipes will serve you well. They are best made in the cool morning and refrigerated for later in the day or made the night before and refrigerated.

Marnie Mead can be reached at






Rhubarb and Strawberries perfect pair

strawberry rhubarb

The French almost spoiled rhubarb for me forever. There are very few foods on my “do not eat” list, and rhubarb was on there. I couldn’t fathom why anyone wanted to eat what I perceived to be a tart version of celery. I only eat that when it is chopped finely like a mirepoix. No ants on log in this house.

But I like to test my dislikes every now and again. So on a trip to Paris a few years ago, I gave it a try as a dessert choice during prix fixe three-course meal. Stewed. That should have given it away. It tasted like tart limp celery.

Fortunately, the relentless press of rhubarb recipes in the late spring caught my eye a year ago and I gave it a try again – chopped finely and paired with strawberries in a crisp or crumble. The fine chop eliminates my texture issue, while the tart flavor pairs deliciously with strawberries.

Now, when it comes into season I buy it. I don’t always know how I am going to prepare it, but I buy it anyway. It keeps for a bit, like celery, so you can wait for inspiration. In my case, it came in the form of Tuesday night dinner. My beau was coming over and he has a sweet tooth (as do both my daughter and I). I temporarily exhausted the chocolate category for his birthday.

Borrowing a recipe from Food52, I chopped up 1 pound rhubarb, 1 pound strawberries and added them to a pot with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and let it sit for an hour. Then I brought it to a boil and simmered for about 20 minutes, until it was nice and thick. I put into into jars, add lids, and refrigerate until ready to use. I dollop spoonfuls in my yogurt in the morning and put it on ice cream at night. It’s strawberry jam at the next level.

For our dessert, the strawberry rhubarb jam topped a fluffy cheesecake baked in a Mason jar, a recipe I adapted from Martha Stewart. I made a few minor alterations.

I can tell you I converted two rhubarb haters into lovers, both asking for some extra jam to top their cheesecakes as they dug in.Cheesecake an a Jar

This seems like a lot of eggs compared to my normal cheesecake recipe, which calls for 1 egg per 8 ounces of cream cheese. The eggs make it fluffy instead of dense, which is perfect in these jars.


  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 4 ounces mascarpone or sour cream (1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon fruit preserves or jam
  • 6  6-ounce jars


  • 4 chocolate or regular graham crackers
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar


Heat oven to 325 degrees. Fill a small pot or a teakettle with water and get it ready to boil. You are going to bake these cheesecakes in a bain marie (water bath) to keep the temperature even.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and mascarpone (or sour cream) until smooth with an electric mixer. Add sugar and beat until it is fully incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Mix in salt (1/4 teaspoon), lemon juice and vanilla.

Divide batter among six 6-ounce jars, filling each about half full first then using any remaining batter to even them out.

Put a baking dish large enough to hold the jars, a 9×9 square dish will work, on the middle rack in the heated oven. Place jars in the baking dish. Fill the dish with boiling water until about halfway up the side of the jars.

Cover with foil that has had 4-6 large slits cut into it to vent. Bake until set in the center, about 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool. Refrigerate overnight to set.

You can serve these the same day, as I did, by gradually changing the hot water to cold once the cheesecakes are baked.  When you remove them from the oven, place the hot pan in the sink. Remove foil. Add tepid water to the dish to gradually lower the temperature. Once the dish has the tepid water in it, gradually add ice cubes to chill down the cheesecakes. Go slowly – don’t dump a bunch of ice all in at one time, or you risk cracking the baking dish and the cheesecake jars. Add ice as it melts. They should be ready to eat in about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, turn graham crackers into crumbs in either a blender or food processor (or buy crumbs). Add sugar and pulse several times to combine. Then add melted butter and process until just incorporated. Spread onto a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes.

When cheesecakes are ready to serve, spoon some preserves on top and sprinkle with graham topping. Place any extra preserves and topping in separate bowls and serve along with the cheesecakes so guests can replenish as they scoop out the cheesecake.

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When the Answer is Chocolate Cake

Being a Mom is an adventure. Especially when you aren’t a “traditional” mom, with the Dad at home and the fence and the siblings. My daughter has no Dad in the home, and no brothers or sisters. We do have a dog. He’s a rescue from the A.N.N.A. Shelter, a mix of American bulldog and golden retriever who can neither retrieve nor bully. So he fits in perfectly with us in our uncategorized life.

So when Mother’s Day rolls around and there’s all this hype about breakfast in bed, that’s not what we’ll be doing. I’d much rather spend the time in the kitchen with my daughter talking and teaching. Not spending time in bed – although if we’re snuggling together that’s great. Just not with a cup of coffee.

I grew up in a “traditional” family – Mom, Dad, two brothers and a sister. We had the occasional odd pet, like ducks and rabbits. My Dad is allergic, so most of our “pets” lived in the basement or outdoors.

That’s not what I have to offer my daughter. We are forging this Mother-Daughter thing ourselves. We have help from my parents and siblings, but they aren’t in Erie (siblings, at all; parents are in Florida during the winter).

Sometimes we share our great successes and laugh, like our whirlwind trip to London together. Sometimes it’s not so successful, but we can laugh about it later. We were sharing some funny Mom moments this weekend about my lack of direction and impatience in the car on our girls’ trip to Toronto. She was telling the story to Ian, another uncategorized part of my life. I can’t call him a boyfriend. That seems a trite way to describe our relationship. We’re both over 50. We’re not planning to get married. Yet there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground – neither married nor single. Divorced, yes; dating, beyond that.

So as we negotiate these years as Mother and Daughter, we find that neither one of us fits into the traditional model. When we started this journey, my daughter would sometimes get angry at this. Why, she would ask, did she not have a brother or sister? Why didn’t we live with a Mom, Dad, Daughter and dogs in the same house? Why couldn’t we be like everyone else?

The answers are complicated, my Darling Daughter. As she gets older, I share bits and pieces, careful not to point blame. Most of these conversations take place at the kitchen counter. I’m cooking. She’s on her iPad. These topics come up. She asks. I answer. She swipes. I mix. When we’re done, we move to the couch. We find a compromise on Netflix. Or, if the conversation continues, the TV is off.

I may not have all the answers at this time. But I do have chocolate cake, which may not be the solution to everything, but sometimes it’s the only one I have.

fallen chocolate cake

Fallen Chocolate Cake


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature,

10 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate pieces

2 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 teaspoons espresso powder

6 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt



1 cup chilled heavy cream

1/2 cup mascarpone, room temperature

4 tablespoon powdered sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa powder


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter 9-inch springform pan.

Combine butter, chocolate and oil and in a large heatproof bowl. Set over a saucepan of simmering water and heat, stirring often, until melted. Remove bowl from saucepan. Or heat in the microwave in a glass bowl for 30 second. Stir and heat for another 30 seconds, or until chocolate is melted. Do not over cook. Stir in espresso powder. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

Separate 4 of the eggs, placing whites and yolks in separate medium bowls. Add remaining 2 eggs, 1/4 cup sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt and whisk until mixture is smooth. Whisk 2 to 3 tablespoons of chocolate mixture into yolks mixture to temper them. Then add entire yolk mixture into chocolate and combine well

Beat egg whites until frothy. With hand or stand mixer running, beat in ½ cup sugar. Beat until peaks form (somewhere between soft and stiff). Fold egg whites into chocolate mixture in 2 additions, folding just until incorporated between additions. Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Bake until top is puffed, appears to have a dull surface on it and is pulling away from edge of pan, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cake cool completely in pan; cake will collapse in center, leaving edges higher. Remove from pan once totally cool.

To make topping: Beat cream, mascarpone and powdered sugar with an electric mixer in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Spread into center of cake. Place cocoa powder into a sifter or strainer and shake over top of cake. Serve.

Adapted from

Chicks and Waffles

Leftover ingredients are often my inspiration. Once I got started on the sourdough, I wanted to try something other than bread. I found a waffle recipe that reminded me of the yeast waffles my mother makes, which are delicious and light.

The sourdough waffle recipe is along the same lines. It requires making an overnight sponge, which needed 2 cups of buttermilk. Wegmans, my favorite store and was recently  named the most popular, doesn’t carry it in just 2 cup options. We’ve been very fortunate in that Wegmans has been in the community about 20 years, so I shop there often. Anyway, so I had a quart of buttermilk and only needed 2 cups.

Which led me to the fried chicken recipe. Buttermilk is the great tenderizer of chicken and helps deliver a ton of flavor as a marinade with other ingredients. The New York Times recipe needed a full quart, but I only made half because there it’s  just my daughter and I most of the time. I love leftover fried chicken, but not enough to make that much.

So, the two chicks had waffles and fried chicken for dinner. Girls need to splurge every now and again. Kale for the rest of the week.

Fried Chicken

Adapted from the New York Times


  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked Spanish Paprika
  • 2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  •  3 pounds cut up chicken


  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder or 1 teaspoon chili powder and 1 teaspoon smoked ancho chili powder or chipotle powder  
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper


  • Dutch oven, preferably a 5 to 6 quart
  • Enough oil to cover half of chicken, preferably something neutral such as peanut or canola


Put all ingredients for marinade except chicken in a large zip-top baggie and shake to combine. Add chicken and make sure all of the pieces are covered with the buttermilk mixture. Place the bag in a bowl and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

To make coating, whisk together ingredients and place into 9-inch-by-13-inch  baking pan. Add chicken, one or two pieces at a time, and roll to completely cover. Remove on a paper towel or baking sheet. Do not discard coating.

Fill oil to about 1/3 of the way up the Dutch oven’s sides. Heat it reaches 350 degrees. Dredge chicken in flour one more time, shake it oven and place into the Dutch oven. You do not want to crowd your chicken, so this will be done in batches. The oil should be about halfway up the chicken pieces. Cover and cook for 6 minutes. Remove lid from pot, turn chicken over. Do not replace lid. Fry for another 6 minutes. Check this website for proper temperatures, but for chicken it is 165 degrees. A probe thermometer works best here.

Remove from oil. Allow to cool on a rack. Do not refrigerate. Best eaten within an hour. A little longer if it is cool in your home. Typical rule of thumb in my region, unless the temperature outside is 85 degrees or higher, is about 3 hours.


Sourdough Waffles

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Overnight Sponge

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup sourdough starter, unfed


  • All of the overnight sponge
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Make the sponge by combining 1 cup of starter, flours, sugar and buttermilk. Let sit at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel overnight. Make sure it stays damp or your sponge will get a crust and that’s not good.

The next day, beat together eggs, oil or butter, and add to the sponge. Add salt and baking soda. The mixture will bubble. Pour into heated waffle iron and cook according to directions. Serve immediately. Makes about 1 dozen waffles.

chicken and wafles


Marnie Mead is a freelance writer, blogger, travel writer and mom. She recently started her own business. You can reach her at