7 years strong….

When I was 16 and filling out college applications they wanted me to write an essay about the defining moments in my life. Really? I’m 16. Other than a broken heart here and there the wasn’t that much to define. I came up with some bull crap and moved on.

Now since then I have had more than my share of defining moments. My mother getting breast cancer is the one that sticks out the most. You see I never planned on anyone in my family getting sick. I am the sick one in the family. An illness I care not to go into but something that does affect my daily life. And selfish me just always assumed that since I had been made sick that God would not let anyone else in my family get sick. Apparently he missed the memo on that one. So it did come out of left field for me. Silly I know, but it did.

Watching my mother get cancer, and more importantly, surviving cancer (going on 7 years now!) was a defining moment in my life. It helped me get over my panic of cancer. My feeling that cancer equaled death. Here was this crazy woman throwing dinner parties just days after her chemo treatments and going through her small town wearing a Carmen Miranda style hat with fake fruit and all (if you are going to do it why not go big?). Seeing her treat it like the bull crap on my college essay and move on as if it were something that just slowed her down a bit really did help me deal with my cancer fears.

Since my mother was diagnosed my mother-in-law, aunts, friends of the family and several friends got cancer….all breast. If it were not going through it with my mother, I could not be the “calm” one of the group when my friends needed support when the rest of their friends and family are freaking out. I am happy to say that all but one of those from that group of people are cancer survivors. And Carol, the lone non-survivor didn’t pass from cancer but the side effects of an experimental treatment (she had stage 4 with little hope).

To honor my mother I made a lemon-berry gratin. My mother is a huge lover of crème brulee. A gratin is basically the same ingredients but instead of going into the fridge, the crème is cooked on a stove top  and then broiled with fruit and sugar. I’m sure my mother would surely approve.

Lemon-Berry Gratin

4 lemons
1 ½ cups whole milk
5 egg yolks
1 tsp cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
2 TBSP all-purpose flour
½ tsp vanilla
1 TBSP lemon juice
1 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup mascarpone cheese
4 cups mixed berries(raspberries and blackberries)
2 TBSP powdered sugar

Zest lemons. Scald milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the lemon zest and remove from heat. Let sit for 1 hour, strain the milk to remove and discard the zest.
In a bowl, beat egg yolks until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. In another bowl, combine flour, cornstarch and sugar. Add this mixture to the egg yolks and  beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
Scald the milk again and add the warm milk slowly to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Place the mixture back in the saucepan and over low heat, stirring, cook until mixture thickens and bubbles around the edges, about 8-10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and whisk in vanilla, lemon juice and butter.
Fold in the mascarpone cheese.
Divide the custard among 6 or8 individual gratin or tartlet dishes, 5-inches in diameter. Press the berries into the custard mixture. Sift the powdered sugar over the top. Broil until the tops are golden brown, 1-2 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Source: Adapted from An American Feast: A Celebration of Cooking on Public Television, recipe given by Joanne Weir


  1. A wonderful gratin! Delicious!

    I’m happy to hear that your mother survived cancer!



  2. Wow. You log in one morning, looking for a little food porn distraction to forget about whatever minor gripe you’re mulling over at the moment, and get hit in the head with such a moving account of courage and family support. A good wake-up call for me to stop feeling sorry for myself and my little daily annoyances.
    I am very glad your friends and family are almost all survivors. I do hope God will read the memo now and leave your family alone.
    And hey, thanks for including food porn as well, the gratin looks delicious!

  3. ooh, I love lemons, I love berries, and these photos make me want to dive right in! What a lovely tribute to your mother. It’s gone straight onto my “to make” list.

  4. Pea, you’ve chosen a beautiful dessert to honor your mother’s fight (and win) against cancer.

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story with us, and reminding me, for one, how important every second of our time here on Earth is.

  5. That is a wonderful, wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it and give us all hope (my aunt is going through it now). The dessert looks absolutely delicate and I think perfect for this event. Well done!

  6. I am glad your mother is doing well…my mother getting cancer is one of my greatest fears…a beautiful dessert to make for a courageous woman!

  7. Peabody, that is BEYOND wonderful and inspiring that your mom has been a breast cancer survivor for 7 years, and is still going strong – I wish her many MORE years!!!

    And of course, the Lemon-Berry Gratin that you made, in her honor, looks quite refreshing and lovely.

  8. Delicious dessert Peabody. I wish I’d had a Carmen Miranda hat when I was going through chemo. Your Mum sounds great and I’m so glad she has made it past the 5 years. 7 years is brilliant.

    Thanks for supporting LiveSTRONG With A Taste Of Yellow.

  9. Glad to hear your mom is doing well.
    I had a huge smile reading about the hat.
    Wonderful dessert

  10. This is such a touching story! You mom is a trooper and so is everyone who went through it with her. This is a reason to celebrate…7 years of living strong! The dessert is gorgeous!

  11. thank you for the wake up call this morning….i’ve been complaining about stupid things ever since my eyes opened….and the gratin is stunning!

  12. What a lovely tribute to your mother, and a good reminder to us that our little aches and pains are nothing compared to the challenges some people live with every day.

  13. thank you for posting this. what a moving story. may your mother never need to wear a miranda style hat again! lovely dessert. i will have to try it soon.

  14. What a wake up call cancer is. It really does put all the stupid, petty stuff in perspective. I am so glad your mom is doing well. This world needs a woman who can wear a Carmen Miranda hat!

  15. Wow! That is something indeed, Ms. Peabody! You’ve got a brave mother and she obviously has an awesome daughter.

    And the dessert … of course … is gorgeous!

    (GO FLAMES!!!)

  16. Life seems always to challenge us. Your writing here about your mom seems something like a huge hug for her and for all of us. Silly it may seem but attitude really can be everything in life.
    Beautiful writing and story and berry gratin Peabody, I’ll use all blackberries because the raspberries are four times as expensive right now.

  17. I think I would really like your mother. She seems like someone who has a good sense about her. And I’m so excited to try a new creme-style dish!!

  18. I’m so glad to hear that your mom beat cancer. My mom is also a survivor, going on 7 years as well. Thanks for sharing your story. I love your blog.

  19. The lemon, the berries, the mascarpone…I am sold. And what a great story. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Congrats to your mom and your whole family for surviving cancer. My mom and dad (yes, both) survived cancer 15 years ago. My mom had Lymphoma and my dad Melanoma. They found out a week apart from each other. They had 4 kids under the age of 12. I guess God doesn’t always get the memo! Anyway, MIL was diagnosed with breast cancer 1 month before our wedding. I sure hope we’re done with our family’s share of cancer (oh, and my uncle and grandpa have had cancer too – and survived), but there’s never any guarantees. But, it sure isn’t a death sentence as I remind my MIL all the time!

  21. Her just dessert for being your Mom and for last 7 years well lived and here’s to many more, Cheers!

  22. I’m sure your mom will surely love this!! I’m always impressed by people like her – I’m not sure how I would handle it if it happened to me, but hopefully I would handle it like your mom!

  23. What an inspiring post. We have just lost a dear friend at 24 to brain cancer and have some other friends dealing with cancer our age right now too. How you told this story was beautiful.
    I hope the delicious lemon dessert was enjoyed by all!

  24. What a great story! I really like hearing the cancer SURVIVOR stories; I think it’s important not to always focus on the worst case. Enjoy your mom every day…mine wasn’t so lucky; we lost her 8 years ago. I’d give anything to hear a little nagging now and then. :)

  25. http://melecotte.blogspot.com/2008/03/cooking-to-combat-cancer-2-event.html Last year, I hosted the first annual Cooking to Combat Cancer. Not knowing many people who have not been touched by cancer, my grandmother’s battle with pancreatic cancer was my first introduction to this ghastly disease. A life changing experience for our family, it really wasn’t a battle since, once diagnosed, it was only a few months when we lost her. Its a time in my life I will never forget, and it still causes raucous feeling in my stomach.

  26. this dessert is a dream – just my kind of flavors!

  27. Go Peabody-Mom! I love hearing success stories like this, thank you.

  28. That’s a beautiful gratin and tribute post. My mom passed from Ovarian/Bladder Cancer. She was in remission for 13 years. Then she came down with some other illneses and we dealt with that. Man I was I blown away when the cancer came back after all that. I didnt understand. Anyway shes been gone now 8 years and I’m just coming to terms with it. But she lives on in me in everyday.

  29. Hey! What a great tribute to your mom. Congrats to your mom on the 7 years! Great Gratin, too!

    And, I see C’Tina cited my event – hmmm….Okay! :)

  30. Congrats to both you and your mom, Peabody, and what a yummy dessert to celebrate seven years of health! I’m loving the tarty sound of those berries with that lemon.

  31. Thank you so much for sharing this peabody. This is a great way of honoring your mom. Congrats to you both :)
    You have also inspired me to participate as well :)

  32. Wow, this looks amazing.

  33. What a wonderful tribute to your mom! This looks great!

  34. I would say that’s a great way to honor your mother. I just hate cancer. It took my Dad and has threatened to take others in our fam. Glad your mom is ok!

    I need to look for a pretty yellow food for this event :)

  35. Lovely.
    Thank you for the story about your mother.

  36. Thanks for sharing your mom’s story; I love the Carmen Miranda image. And I really love that dessert.

  37. We just got the call tonight that our dear friend Chrissy isn’t supposed to make it through the weekend. She is my age.. .34 and has a 6 year old daughter. The cancer has just taken over too much. She’s been battling it since the month after her daughter was born.

    Thanks for the reminder of this worthy event!

  38. Like your mom I am a breast cancer survivor. I will be 3 years cancer free on May 10.

    Please give her a high five and a hug for me.

    Kristen, I will say a special prayer for Chrissy.

  39. beautiful gratin (of course), and even more lovely honor for your mother, and other cancer survivors, and those who did not.

  40. Touching story Peabody and a beautiful gratin to match! A perfect dessert tribute for your lovely mom. :)

  41. Pea, your mum is such an inspiration…kudos to her for fighting the disease :-)

    ….as for your dessert, it looks heavenly :-)

  42. It give a lot of hope to hear success stories like your Mom’s one :)

  43. I just got off the phone with my dad, fighting prostate cancer, still going strong, had his check yesterday and told me they were planning their next vacation, now I’m reading your story… Thanks for sharing. The story, the recipe and the spirit!

  44. You always write the most beautiful posts, Pea. And you’ve got me all teary here – luckily for me, my boss is not around now or I’d have to explain that to him. :)

  45. Thank you for sharing something so personal. Your mom sounds like an amazing woman! The creme looks very lovely.

  46. Your photo, your story, your recipe – beautiful….
    My father succumbed to cancer after getting it 3 times. (Prostate, T cell Lymphoma). This was four years ago, and still seems like yesterday sometimes. My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer a few months ago (non-smoker) but they went in and cut it out and the prognosis looks good. I have saved this recipe-I love all the ingredients and can’t wait to try it out when my little crop of raspberries come in.

  47. This is SO much my cup of tea dessert! Great note for a noble occasion!

  48. Oh, Peabody! You are so blessed to still have your mom with you. Treasure her!

    I blissfully sailed through my life, thinking nothing could ever touch me, and out of the blue, my dad was stricken with cancer. It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t survive, but he died a year later. I’d give anything to be in your shoes.

    By the way, your gratin looks vibrant and beautiful!

  49. This was a great story,, with an almost happy ending, I am thinking of Carol….cancer stinks !Your mom will love this dedicated dessert to her-you are a blessing!

  50. After growing up in a small town, I can only imagine the stir that Carmen Miranda hat caused! It’s a lovely image. :)


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