What You Don’t See

I was really hesitant to weigh in on everything with Robin Williams, but this is a post that has been on my mind since Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death, and I’m not sure I can hold back from writing it any longer.

I’ve been particularly shaken by some of the recent celebrity deaths. People like Philip Seymour Hoffman, like Robin Williams, I feel like I know them. I remember growing up on Mrs. Doubtfire, remember the first time I saw Dead Poet’s Society in a psychology class in college. I remember when I went through an indie films phase and got my first taste of Hoffman in The Savages.

In short, I feel like I knew these people. Not just on the surface, but because I had seen so many facets of their personality on screen, I felt like I truly, deeply knew these people. When Robin Williams passed away, I felt like I was losing some sort of childhood figure the same way I would have felt had I heard a childhood friend’s parent had died. Hearing of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death took me back to hearing about losses of acquaintances in school. It felt personal enough that it made me take a step back and think about life differently, at least for a little bit.

And then something hit me. I’m not alone in these deaths feeling personal. If my news feed on Facebook yesterday was any indication, it hits everyone hard when someone beloved, someone we grew up on, dies. Cries of “Oh captain, my captain!” and “Nanu Nanu” rang out on Facebook and I realized that Robin William’s death is personal for everyone.

But here’s the deal… we saw Robin Williams. We watched him in films. We saw him play Teddy Roosevelt and Mrs Doubtfire and all of these roles and everything seemed fine. He was funny, he was happy, things were great on the surface. It takes me back to a few years ago when a local channel’s weather anchor committed suicide. He was funny. He joked and laughed, but he was harboring this dark, desperate feeling inside, and eventually, he couldn’t hold on any longer.

Clearly, a local celebrity hits home closer. That’s someone I could have ran into at the grocery store, someone who I might have known in passing. And that’s what’s so scary to me… that all of us, no matter what town we live in, what part of the world we’re in, no matter our walk of life, income level, family status– we all know someone. Each and every one of us knows someone who might be going through the same struggles that Robin Williams went through with depression, that Philip Seymour Hoffman went through with his drug addiction.

Maybe it’s the teen sacking your groceries at the store, the mail carrier delivering your packages to your doorstep, the person who goes for a run each morning around your block. Any one of them could be struggling with depression, or drug addiction, or any host of problems.

And I can guarantee it will hit you the same way. If one of them were overcome by addiction, or their depression consumed them and they did what we all feel as unthinkable, you’d think “How could that happen? I knew them. They were funny/cheery/happy/whatever.” You might say “Yeah, you know, maybe there was just something I missed there.”

Most likely, you’d feel sad. You’d wonder if something could have been done. And then, after days, weeks, maybe months, you’d move on. You’d remember from time to time, but not the way you would if it was someone closer to you.

And that’s what scares me. You see, Robin William’s death hit me hard because I felt like I knew him. And it made me wonder who else I think I know that I don’t really know, that I haven’t taken the time to listen to. If someone had listened to Robin, checked in with him, or if someone had asked Phillip how he was doing, seen if he had fallen off of the wagon, tried to get him the help he needed, maybe they’d still be with us. And maybe, just maybe, if I took more than a passing second to ask “How are you?” to the cashier before interrupting to hand over my coupons and get out the door, or if I stopped to say hello to my mail carrier, maybe my actions would help someone hold on just a little bit longer.

The death of these celebrities that I thought I knew simply because I had seen them so often in life made me wonder if there are people that I think I know in real life, that maybe I’m missing who they are.

Maybe it’s for the good– maybe there’s someone who seems annoying or overbearing that I feel like I know on the surface, and maybe they’re pure gold underneath. How often am I wrapped up in my day-to-day, my silly toddler, my writing, my photography, that I don’t notice what those around me are experiencing?

If nothing else, the deaths of these celebrities encouraged me to stop, pay a little bit more attention to the people who are around me. I don’t think my stopping to listen will necessarily save a life, but at the same time, who is to say it wouldn’t? I feel like it’s worth thinking about, taking the time to get to know more of those people I think I know. After all, I can’t change what a celebrity like Robin Williams does, but I can do a better job of making an impact in those people I know-but-don’t in my own town.

It’s worth a shot.

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Crockpot Cashew Chicken

In our area, back to school is coming up fast. Today, we took our exchange student school supply shopping and just days ago, the last of Zach’s curriculum arrived for the year. There’s no shortage of planning and preparing for the school year, and that means a whole lot of busy days ahead, both as we soak up the last days of summer and prepare for the school year, and in the days ahead where we’re going to be teaching, working, and keeping the house clean.

Luckily, I have a crock pot. And trust me, I use it and use it often. I love being able to use my crock pot to keep meals easy, and starting a meal early means I get to work on other things and not worry about dinner.

I love this recipe that my grandmother gave me. She said she found it online, and, after doing a little searching, it looks like it is modified from Campbell’s themselves. Start with 5-6 chicken breasts, a can of Campbell’s cream of chicken soup, some onion, some green onion, a little soy sauce, and the cashews and chow mein noodles. Cook the chicken breasts first. Even better, you can pre-cook these another night and refrigerate. I try to make a chicken dish a day or two before this one, then refrigerate the cooked chicken until the day of this meal. Then, you have even less day-of prep!

Chop your chicken, onion, and green onion. You could also choose to do this before the day you’re cooking to eliminate your day-of prep.

Spray your crock pot with some non-stick cooking spray, then load in all of the ingredients except the rice and the chow mein noodles. I typically leave out one of the cans of cashews in order to reserve them for a topping at the end.

Stir in the soup and soy sauce, coating the ingredients. It might look a little strange, but I promise, it’s so delicious! Turn your crock pot on low for 5-9 hours, or set it on high for 2-3 hours. It’s just long enough to get the kids through the day on low, or enough to take care of those “oh, shoot! I just got home and realized I forgot to turn on the crock pot!” moments on high.

Finish your meal with a little cooked rice and some crunchy chow mein noodles, along with the rest of the cashews.

 

Crock Pot Cashew Chicken

5-6 breasts cooked chicken, diced
1/2 Cup diced onion
1/2 Cup diced green onion
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 can cream of chicken soup
Cashews
Chow mein noodles
Rice
Non-stick cooking spray

Spray the inside of the crock pot with non-stick cooking spray.
Combine all ingredients except chow mein noodles in crock pot.
Cook 5-9 hours on low, or on high for 2-3 hours.
Serve over rice, with chow mein noodles and additional cashews for crunch.

In the mood for Asian food? Check out more dishes inspired by the far East by looking at my Ramen Slaw or my Dipped Almond Cookies.

 

Are you a crock pot fan? Do you use yours year-round or in winter? Let me know your crock pot habits in the comments below!

3 Irresistible End-of-Summer Mocktails

Ugh. Back to school time already? I mean, I love back to school, don’t get me wrong, but there’s just this finality that seeing backpacks and pencil cases in stores brings. It means that before long, the pool will be closing, the days will be shorter, and it’ll be time to pull the sweaters from the back of the closet. While fall is pretty much my favorite thing, I’m never ready to say farewell to summer, either, so I had to share these three great summer mocktails that will keep you in good spirits until that first bus pulls away or the books come out of storage. The best part? Since they’re mocktails, the whole family can indulge in a little celebratory toast to a rockin’ school year.

The Lemonade Drop is the most complicated drink on the menu here, but it’s also my personal favorite (and my son’s favorite, too). A twist on lemon drops, you start by moistening the rim of a martini glass with a lemon wedge and dipping the rim in powdered sugar. From there, you’ll squeeze 1 ounce pure lemon juice, 4 ounces Sicilian or Italian lemonade, and 2 ounces of orange juice into your glass and garnish with a twist of lemon. It’s beautiful, and just tart enough that it’ll make for some cute pucker-face photos while still being simply sweet for even young tasters.

When to enjoy: on those last dying days of summer, when you’re bored with the standard lemonade.

The Fake-It-Til-You-Make-It Mimosa is oh-so-easy, only 2 ingredients. Fill half of your champagne flute with orange juice, then top it off the rest of the way with sparkling white grape juice. It’s fizzy and delicious.

When to serve it: Mornings, particularly on the first day of school, or anytime you need an extra fancy fizz to your orange juice.

Your typical Madras is orange juice, cranberry juice, and vodka served on the rocks, but for people like me who want a madras sans alcohol, this is a delicious treat! You’re going to take 4 ounces orange juice, 4 ounces cranberry juice, and 4 ounces of club soda in a tall glass, then garnish with a squeeze of lemon juice and a wedge of lemon. It’s easy, it’s chic, and it’s delicious. With or without ice, this is one tasty beverage.

When to serve it: The first Friday after school starts, like an after school virgin happy hour/study hour combo.

 

There you have it– 3 go-to drinks that are safe for any member of the family to indulge in once in awhile. Who doesn’t love a sweet, fizzy drink at the end of a busy summer that’s rapidly becoming fall? What’s your favorite back-to-school tradition? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

If you de-virginize these drinks, please drink responsibly. Oh, and if you keep them clean and alcohol-free, still drink responsibly, because who wants a mock-madras spilled all over their history textbook, y’know?

Peach Walnut Salad

I love salad. It’s seriously one of the best foods in the world. My mom and I always bug the living daylights out of my dad because on a nice summer day, we’re content to just eat salad. No meat, no grilled whatever, just a nice salad. But when the grill is already heated and prepped, why not grill some delicious fruit for a salad? This easy summer salad is a sure-fire stunner with it’s grilled peaches, candied walnuts, and delicious greens and feta.

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Oriental Ramen Slaw

Ramen. It’s delicious. It’s cheap. I practically lived on it in college. Sometimes, I still do. Oddly enough, between all of my baking, it’s still one of my favorite comfort foods. But sometimes warm noodles get boring… but there’s another way to eat ramen that is way more exciting! Hello, Oriental Ramen Slaw. (more…)

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta Bake

If y’all have been around the blog a day or two, you know I love the chicken, bacon, and ranch combo. They’re flavors that were just made for each other! So, when it came time to make dinner the other night and I had no idea what to make, I needed to see what I had in my pantry and fridge. I came up with a few items that made a big impact, and it all started with the chicken, bacon, and ranch I had on hand.

Start with what’s pictured above. A lot of the ingredients are delicious, common, and you may even have them on hand.

Cook your pasta– I always do about half a cup for each family member, plus an extra half cup (so we have leftovers). While it’s cooking, dice your chicken and begin cooking it in a skillet. Again, I do one chicken tender piece (smaller than a breast) per family member, plus one extra.

Once the chicken is cooked, place it in a bowl and set it aside, then put your peppers and onions in the skillet. The bell peppers can be whatever you have on hand or on sale. I happened to have already cut 4 different colors of bell peppers for pizza night the night before and had leftovers.

Saute the peppers in a little bit of olive oil until the peppers and onions are tender and the onions are translucent. Remove them from the skillet and set aside.

Add a little bit of butter to the skillet and saute your mushrooms. I like to use sliced baby bellas, but you can use any kind of mushroom you prefer. You’ll want them tender and cooked.

Now, you’ll make your sauce. Take your alfredo sauce (it’s a 15 oz container of Bertolli) and one packet of Hidden Valley Ranch mix, and pour the ranch into the alfredo sauce. I give it a quick stir with a knife before I put the lid back on and shake-shake-shake until it’s well mixed.

In a casserole dish, combine your bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, pasta, chicken, and the package of bacon pieces, stirring in the alfredo ranch sauce.

Add mozzarella cheese and Italian seasoned breadcrumbs on top, then bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes to get the cheese melted and the top crispy. It’s all fully cooked beforehand, so the bake is just to help those flavors meld together a bit more.

The best thing about this recipe is that it’s less recipe, more idea… you can make just enough servings for one person (half a cup of pasta, a chicken tenderloin, a small handful of veggies, baked in the dish), or you can double or triple it for a family. I use a full jar of sauce to make dinner for 6 in a 9×13 pan, but you can use more sauce or less sauce to taste. It would be very easy for me to say “This is how you make it,” but this recipe is so flexible that giving a recipe does it a disservice. Follow the steps, eyeball the ingredients, and I promise, it’ll be perfect every time.

My favorite way to serve it is with homemade garlic knots. And the best part? You can serve it with homemade garlic knots, too! I’ll be sharing the recipe later today on Facebook, so be sure to go over and like me on facebook so you can see the recipe!

 

Do you love the chicken, bacon, ranch combo? You’ll love my chicken bacon ranch foil packets!

What’s your favorite flavor combo for dinner?

 

Handling and Explaining Global Tragedies to Your Kids

It’s all over the news. Yesterday, a commercial flight was shot down over a very volatile zone. The thing that is traumatizing and scary about this is that a normal activity– flying on an airplane–is once again linked with tragedy. While of course, there’s danger in flying over a zone that’s essentially at war, it’s a flight path that a lot of planes were taking. This event just happened to be an anomaly, and it isn’t the first major tragedy kids have heard about on the news.

Think back to recent months. You’ll remember another airline tragedy, also featuring Malaysia Air, where a plane disappeared. At a seemingly normal sleepover, two pre-teens felt compelled to stab their friend multiple times while playing hide-and-seek, then blaming it on a work of internet folklore. A man drove around a town and shot people because he was tired of being rejected by girls. A guy killed people outside of a Jewish center because of his hatred for the Jewish people (when those he killed were not even Jewish, not that it makes what he did any worse). It’s very easy for kids to hear what’s going on in the media and begin to feel unsafe on airplanes, in sleepovers, at the movies, at school, or even just walking through their hometown. While you want your children to be informed and prepared for dangerous situations– like stranger danger or a school shooting– you also don’t want them to feel so anxious and afraid that they can’t function.

But there are some ways to explain and handle these tragedies with your children so they can feel better about these horrifying acts.

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