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
Salt
Pepper
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.

 

 

 

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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.

Cake

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).

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

XOXOXO

Marnie

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.

Cake

  • 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.

3 Tips for Cooking in Summer Heat

fireworks

Fourth of July fireworks Monday night. 

This morning even the dog didn’t want to go outside. You could feel the temperature climbing at 7:30 a.m. and knew it was going to be a day to hit the beach or stay inside.

I’m not complaining. I’ve lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, too long to whine about summer. I just wish I could can the July days like I do tomatoes in late August to pull off the shelf on a particularly nasty February day and be reminded of what sunshine looks and feels like.

Without much rain and promises of temps hitting the 90s, it’s time to get creative when it comes to turning on the oven. Some people just don’t do it. I’m a baker. With strawberries, cherries, blueberries and peaches ripening throughout the summer, I’m always thinking of cobblers, coffee cakes, pies, grunts and crumbles.

1. Bake at night or early in the morning.

When I want to bake, I typically work late at night or early in the morning. Sometimes I do both.

Last night, I made the batter for zucchini bread minus the leavening ingredients. Early this morning, I added the baking powder and baking soda and popped two loaves into the oven. I was tired, so I forgot to add the chocolate chips last night. So my suggestion for baking at night is to put the ingredients out on the counter and that way you won’t forget. The French call it mise en place.

I was also making corn bread from Melissa Clark at the NY Times. That comes together very quickly, so I mixed up a batch of cornbread when the zucchini bread still had about 30 minutes to go, then added the corn bread loaves to the oven.

corn bread

Everything was done and cooling by 8 a.m. Batch baking is the best.

2. Keep your slow cooker working all summer so you don’t have to.

Many people use the slow cooker only in the winter for soups and stews. I pull it out just as often in the summer to make ribs, pulled pork or chicken, and fresh tomato sauces.

With ribs, I will put a rub on, then cook on low in the slow cooker with about a cup of root beer or cola overnight. I pull them out in the morning and wrap in foil. When it is time for lunch or dinner, I finish on the grill with a brush of barbecue sauce.

ribs

Ribs in the fridge.

This summer, I am going to try baking in it as well.

3. Batch grill.

If you are going to fire up the grill, why not cook a few chicken breasts at the same time? We eat a lot of chicken breasts in the summer. When I come home from the market with a family package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about half go into a zip-top baggie with about a half cup of buttermilk, a few pinches of salt and some seasonings. This is when it’s great to use those seasoning mixes. I’ll throw in a tablespoon or more of Northwoods blend from Penzey’s. It has salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, granulated garlic and ground chipotle pepper – making it very versatile. Allow to marinate until you are firing up the grill, then cook. You can then slice and store for topping on salads, in wraps or on top of pasta. Other favorite blends include Forward, Singapore, and Fox Point.

You can do the same with a pork loin.

Throw on a few extra vegetables from your CSA and toast a loaf of ciabatta split in half. Now you can make a lovely sandwich with sliced grilled chicken or pork and vegetables for lunch tomorrow.

Grilled meats will usually hold for three days in the refrigerator.

bge

My favorite – the Big Green Egg.

 

Stay cool.

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmeadia.com