S'mores in a Pan (So Easy Even Grandpa Can Make This One!)

This is such a simple treat that you might wonder why I’ve bothered to “write it up,” but it never occurred to me spontaneously, so maybe you haven’t thought of it either! It’s a great way to enjoy s’mores in the winter, passed along to me by my daughter.

Toasting marshmallows over coals on a warm, sunny day

Traditionally, (at least in our home) making s’mores has been a summer treat reserved for camping trips or backyard picnics after the fires have burned low. Outdoors! Where the kids can run around accidentally dropping burned marshmallows off the ends of their roasting sticks and smearing gooey fingerprints everywhere without making too much of a mess. It’s just too risky trying to make s’mores inside, even if you do have a fireplace. However, somebody thought of this:

S’mores in a Pan

Preheat oven to 400°F.
In the bottom of a cast iron griddle, spread:
2-4 oz. of chocolate chips per person
Cover with miniature marshmallows
Heat on top rack of oven for 3-5 minutes, or until chocolate is melted and marshmallows are starting to turn golden. (If the marshmallows haven’t browned, you can turn on the broiler, but then you really have to watch it carefully; I almost burned this batch, as you can see!) **Obviously, your cast iron pan will be burning hot, so make sure everyone knows NOT to touch the sides of the pan!

Serve immediately with graham crackers. Each person can dip in his own crackers and make his own s’more as he pleases. If kids stay at the table, it’s possible to eat the s’mores in a semi-reputable fashion, although the crackers will break apart (as always), so plates are good!

For chocolate lovers, chocolate graham crackers are a bonus, but they’re really yummy either way!

If you have little ones at home, or your grands come over unexpectedly, this is the perfect way to make a guaranteed-to-please treat in about 5 minutes!

Maybe not quite as thrilling as burning your own marshmallows over an open fire, but definitely great fun in winter! 🙂

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:24-27).

Death on a Plate

My oldest brother mentioned that his favorite “go to” when it’s his turn to bring a dessert for their bridge club is called “Death on a Plate,” and since anything that sounds so good it’s deadly appeals to me, I asked for the recipe. Rob got it from a buddy from back in the days when they were both working at Lockheed as rocket scientists, but the cake is simple—not rocket science—and pretty much fool-proof, bomb-proof, and a constant crowd pleaser!

It’s also very flexible, because my first run through, I totally missed the “salad oil” and left out the pudding mix, since I didn’t have one on hand. I used sparkling grape juice instead of Kahlua and English walnuts instead of black walnuts (which I couldn’t find in the store) . . . and it still turned out great. (However, I did double the amount of chocolate chips: from 6 oz. to 12 oz.)

Also, I served it with copious amounts of whipped cream to make sure the gooey factor was high enough.

On my second run through, I used a triple-chocolate fudge cake mix with 12-oz. of special dark chocolate chips and espresso instead of Kahlua. I remembered to add 3/4 cup canola oil but somehow managed to forget the vanilla pudding mix, (which I’d bought special for the occasion, since I normally just make it from scratch)— even though it was sitting on the counter right beside the mixes! Duh!! 🙂

Believe it or not, this cake is very forgiving, because it still tasted delicious!

Because this cake was made for a potluck with children present, I left out the nuts entirely (which put off lots of small children) and decided to make the cake more eye-catching by dripping some white chocolate ganache around the edges.

The final touch was spooning some hot chocolate over the top. I think of most cakes as serving 12, but I was able to slice this one into 24 pieces, which worked great for the potluck and gave more people a chance to try it. I can now vouch for my brother’s good taste and understand why it’s his go-to for special events! 🙂

(P.S.—if you need recipes for ganache and hot fudge, they can be found below. For a white ganache, just substitute white-chocolate chips for chocolate. For decorating a cake, you really only need about a quarter as much as the ganache tart calls for and about half the amount in my hot fudge recipe.)



He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:21).

Brenda's Tangine Adventure

Here’s a story on trying to be thrifty that will make you laugh, shared by Brenda, who has been my Anne-of-Green-Gables style “bosom friend” since childhood.

As a quick introduction, Brenda and I met on the first day of eighth grade and have been close ever since.

It was a bittersweet day indeed when Brenda married Tom and “left me!” However, after twenty-five years of marriage, we ended up in the same community and have been able to resume our steadfast friendship for this past twenty-five years! We were over to their home for a delicious Moroccan dinner recently, and the story behind the meal was so funny that I asked her if she’d be willing to write it up to share with you. Because—if you are at all like me—you will resonate with the idea of how often we spend money trying to be thrifty! Here it is:

I started with the best of intentions.

I’m not sure when this project took on a life on its own, but it did. It was like a snowball rolling downhill gathering speed and becoming bigger.  How did having a dinner party for close friends end up with an international cooking experience that involved new equipment, new spices and new cooking methods?

It started innocently enough.  I was going to make Candy Cane coffee cakes for Christmas gift giving.  I needed cherries and dried apricots for my baking project.   The first step on the path was buying my apricots at Costco where a 3-pound package of apricots sells for the same amount as a one-pound package at my local grocery store.  As I look back, this is the point where the snowball started rolling downhill.  Imperceptibly at first, but slowly and steadily it got bigger. I had bought that big bag of apricots trying to be a cost-conscious person.

After I had finished making and distributing many candy cane coffee cakes, I still had 2 pounds of apricots remaining.  I needed to find a way to use them up, since I didn’t want to waste them.  I’m a cost-conscious consumer, after all.

I was going to be hosting a dinner party for friends after Christmas, so this was the perfect time to try something new.  I began looking for a main dish recipe that included dried apricots.  I found one easily online.  Lamb and Apricot Tagine.  A dish from Morocco that used several cups of apricots.

I decided that this was a perfect recipe to treat my friends coming to the dinner party.  We had eaten together at a Mediterranean restaurant, so I knew they were up for adventure in this type of cuisine.  What a great way to impress them while being a cost-conscious consumer.

The recipe said the Lamb and Apricot Tagine was cooked in a traditional Moroccan dish called a tagine.  This clay pot allowed slow cooking that continually steamed the food with a domed lid. I could almost smell the dish cooking as I read the recipe and the cook’s comments. The recipe also included instructions for cooking in an Instant Pot, which I have, but that couldn’t be as tasty as using a dish that had been used for hundreds of years in the Middle East, could it?

After researching sources for a tagine, I found that World Market had them and with an after-Christmas discount, I was able to buy one for under $30.  Not too bad but slightly more than I wanted to spend.  However, the price was much higher on Amazon, so again, I felt like I was being a cost-conscious consumer.

I began to gather the ingredients.  The lamb for the recipe meant a trip  to an international market.  I learned a lesson here-lamb is not a cost-effective meat to use. Then I needed saffron threads.  I found these at the International Market after much searching.  I asked the clerk and found they keep saffron in a locked cabinet behind the counter, which tells you the value of the spice. 

On the advice of my chef son, I also ordered some saffron from Amazon who was happy to deliver a small amount of the spice.  Saffron is really the thread-like parts of a crocus flower that grows in the Mediterranean area.   The most expensive spice in the world by weight but luckily, I only needed a very small amount. 

On the positive side, the use of a tagine on an electric stove requires a diffuser to keep the heat from directly touching the tagine.  Fortunately, I have a gas stove and could bypass the diffuser by keeping the heat very low. 

As I began planning for the dinner party, I realized the tagine would not hold enough ingredients to feed six people.  I was going to have to make two batches of the recipe which would require six hours of cooking.  But as often happens, the day of the dinner party, I didn’t have six hours.  My daughter and family had decided to come for a visit from Ohio and left just a few hours before the dinner.  Necessity stepped in, and I had to  cook one batch in the tagine and one in the Instant Pot. 

When my guests arrived, I shared the whole story of the dinner menu that had spiraled out of control.  I placed two dishes of the lamb and apricots on the table and asked them to compare and decide which method was  tastier.  They felt the results were very similar, and that possibly the Instant Pot version was slightly more tender. 

Lesson learned: Either don’t buy large quantities to save money or go with the flow and be open to new experiences to broaden yourself.  I’m going to go with the latter.  We’ve tasted new food, learned how to cook with a tagine and found that the new method (Instant Pot) may be as good as the method used for several thousand years.

But now I need to get a recipe book that features Moroccan cooking so I can make more meals in my tagine.  So, I may not be done with my cooking adventure yet.  After all, I’m a cost-conscious consumer.

(Tangine! This Saturday I’ll share her recipe) 🙂

And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour,
it is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:13).

Cornish Pasties from the U.P.

Don’t you love pasties? Our family fell in love with them thirty years ago when we moved to Marquette, Michigan, although we usually bought ours from Jean Kay’s Pasty Shop rather than making our own. However, here’s an authentic recipe for Cornish Pasties shared by a native “Yooper” (born and reared in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), my friend Grace Truman.

Cornish Pasties
(Makes 6 large pasties . . . each about a pound!)

For the filling, combine in a large bowl:
2 lbs. cubed raw beef, chicken, pork, or venison
4 pared and cubed medium potatoes
4 pared and sliced carrots, or equivalent rutabaga if you prefer
Sprinkle on salt, pepper, onion, parsley, basil, and oregano to taste. (*See notes below for suggestions.)

Stir well.    

For the crust, mix together:
4 cups flour (Grace uses organic, unbleached King Arthur)
1.5 teaspoons salt
Cut in 1 C soft butter
Stir in 1 C water, more or less, to make a moist, but not sticky, dough.  (Kathi: I found that 1 cup was just about perfect.)

Divide dough into six pieces and form into balls. 

Roll out each ball to dinner plate size. (Kathi: I found it helpful to roll the crusts out on top of saran wrap so that it’s easier to flip over and transfer later. It also helps to flour the surface and make the crust as smoothly circular as possible before rolling.)

Top each crust with 1/6 of the filling.  (Kathi: I found this to be almost exactly 2 cups)
Top with 1/2 tbsp. butter.  (Kathi: Or 1 tablespoon of butter if you can afford the calories)

Moisten dough edges and fold in half, bringing the crust up and over the filling to make a half circle. 

Seal edges. 

Brush on milk and cut slits in the crust. 

Bake 1 hour at 400°F. until brown. 

(Kathi: I noticed that the areas where I’d brushed the pasties with milk turned a more golden brown, so next time I’ll be sure to entirely cover the surfaces with a light brushing of milk.)

Pasties are HUGE. I used to eat a whole one without batting an eye, but I suppose that was back in the day when I was chasing kids around and hiking in the hills! I should have only eaten half of mine! At any rate, it was delicious. They are a “meal in one” although I served ours with some fresh berries for dessert and a glass of (non-alcoholic) wassail punch.

Alan is also a native Yooper and loves pasties, so he told me I should take a picture demonstrating just how yummy they are! He ate every bit of his with delight!

Notes: Leftover pasties may be frozen. After they are baked, let them cool completely, and then wrap them individually in aluminum foil and freeze. When you’re ready to eat them again, pull them out of the freezer and bake them at 350°F. for 1 hour.  Grace mentioned that some people like them with gravy, although Alan and I always use ketchup with ours.

Notes: When I made them, I tried to measure the spices to get a feel for “how much” might be “to taste.” This is what I did, and it turned out well:
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder (not onion salt)
1 tablespoon dried, crushed parsley
1 tablespoon dried, crushed basil
1 tablespoon dried, crushed oregano
*2 teaspoons garlic powder (not garlic salt; this wasn’t in Grace’s recipe, but we love garlic, and so “to taste” for us needed a little garlic powder)

Also, Grace mentioned later to use parchment paper underneath them, which would be a good idea. I didn’t think of that, so one of mine stuck rather badly to the bottom of the cookie sheet. If you have a cookie sheet that can withstand a metal spatula, then they come off pretty easily, but don’t try too soon, or the crust will crack and break up. I think it’s best to let them rest about 10 minutes before serving them.

And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?” (Luke 12:42; Oh, to be a faithful and wise steward!)

Creamy Eggnog

A favorite tradition in my family since childhood was making eggnog for New Year’s Eve. We made it with raw eggs (yolks and whites), but in modern times, it’s become necessary to cook the eggs (to prevent Salmonella poisoning), so my son Aaron started searching the web for recipes that  provided excellent taste but were cooked. This recipe is inspired by his findings but adapted to my personal penchant for using egg whites too, which produces a slightly lighter, foamy custard that is delicious, nutritious, and perfect for making toasts as you celebrate the approach of the new year. However, be aware that this is a still a super rich drink—more of a dessert—so save some calories’ worth of appetite for this festive treat!

Creamy Dreamy Eggnog
(Serves 8-12)

#1. In a mixing bowl, combine:
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Beat until light and frothy.

#2. In a large saucepan, combine:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heart, stirring constantly until it just starts to simmer (don’t let it boil)

#3. Slowly add (one at a time) several tablespoons of the hot milk mixture to the egg and sugar mixture in the blender, beating constantly. Once most of the hot milk has been added to the eggs, and it’s well blended, return everything to the saucepan.

#4. Whisk the mixture over a medium heat until it’s thoroughly heated and thickens slightly. Turn off heat.

#5. Beat together in the mixing bowl until soft peaks form:
6 egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar

#6. Slowly pour the heated milk mixture into the egg whites, until the entire mixture is hot, uniform in appearance, and somewhat thick.

#7. Chill in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve. (Best made a day ahead, and can be stored for several days if needed. Good for up to a week.)

#8. Serve by pouring into glasses and then top with whipped cream (1 cup with 2 tablespoons of sugar should make enough for everybody) and a sprinkle of cinnamon, according to your taste.

Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper
and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth”
(3 John 1:2).

Merry Christmas, 2019

Sitting by the fountain in the Soo Looks Park where we used to sit 50 years ago!

2019 has been an extremely happy year for our family for the most part, although not without some major sorrow and challenges! Alan has been feeling well and is continuing as the medical director at Pine Rest Christian Hospital. However, we will both turn 70 in 2020, so he’s beginning to think about retiring “at some point.” I’m guessing sometime this coming year, but he’s made no promises, so I’m not holding my breath! Besides, I’m happy as a clam writing and enjoying family, friends, community, and church life.

Aaron and Michael’s families joining us on a “Roots Tour”
in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Aaron and Carleen with their four boys continue to enjoy living in California, where Aaron is now a senior manager at LinkedIn. Carlie is still homeschooling, and the kids all seem to be thriving. They’ve been wonderful about visiting twice each year, for which I’m most grateful because it makes the distance seem not quite so far!

Michael and Grace’s family in Europe

Michael and Grace are now stationed in Belgium with their five children, so (very sadly) we don’t get to see them often, although they blessed us with a long, happy visit last summer. Michael has been promoted to “Major” Armstrong and works at the American/NATO dental clinics near Brussels, where they enjoy interacting with military personnel from 28 different countries! The children were enrolled in the Belgian public schools this fall (after previously home schooling), so they’re learning French and expanding their understanding of world culture.

Such a fun week with Jon and Gerlinde’s family at Disney!

Jonathan and Gerlinde are now living in Chicago, where (“Dr.”) Jonathan is a professor of biblical studies and directs the Center for Global Theological Education. Gerlinde is still homeschooling the children. We had an awesome trip to Disney camping with their family last spring and feel greatly privileged to see them pretty often now that they’re living so much closer than they used to! (Lived for seven years in Washington State.)

Daniel and Brianna with Samuel, Elanor, and Neil

Daniel and Brianna (like Jonathan and Kathryn) also now have three children, so Alan and I are the blessed “Papa” and “Nana” to eighteen grandchildren. Because Daniel and Brianna live in Grand Rapids, we get to see them the most often and delight in watching every little change! Right now, Nerf wars with Sammy and Play-Doh with Ellie are favorite games, whereas our new “Neil Armstrong” just likes to snuggle and coo! Daniel continues as the dental director at Exalta Health, a ministry in GR treating the medical, emotional, and spiritual needs of un or under-insured folks. Brianna’s father retired in May (in what seemed like perfect health) but was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in August. His 10 children, 6 in-laws, and 15 grandchildren were able to gather in time for his shocking demise, and he passed into eternal rest on the 21st of November. He has been terribly missed.

Stephen home for the Fourth of July and his birthday

Stephen is still hard at work on his PhD in musicology from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. He has now completed all his classwork for his degree and is writing his dissertation. Thanks to a scholarship, he spent part of his summer studying in the U.K. Stephen has presented at twenty conferences over the past few years . . . all part of becoming competitive for the job market as (hopefully) a college professor in the next year or two.

Joel at his office

We have the great privilege of having our youngest son living with us at this time. He works as an associate editor at Kregel Publications and adds much joy to our home! He is also actively presenting at writers’ conferences and is constantly working on novels.

Joel teaching a seminar at my Blue Water Writers’ Group

Joel (as a special gift to me) has even shared a couple of his presentations with my writers’ group!

Some of our family gathered for a Fourth of July celebration

There is so much I could say, but I appreciate your taking time to read this much! All the kids and grandchildren are healthy, active in their churches, and growing in grace. The bottom line to me is that God has been amazingly merciful and kind to our family. I’ve been memorizing psalms this year, and Psalm 16 just speaks my heart:

Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee; But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight. Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”