Friday, April 23, 2010

Our Pen Pal

Since September 2009 we have been writing to a girl living in an orphanage in Russia through Hope Chest. Well, let's be honest - when I say "we" I really mean that I write and sign Kevin's name :)

We write her about once a month (sometimes it is longer than that because I forget and then I feel like the worst possible person alive because she probably already struggles with abandonment issues, but that's another story entirely). I tell her what we like to do and talk about our families and our adventures. We also send pictures along with our letters.

All we knew about her when we started writing to her in September 2009 was that she was 17 years old and brand new to the orphanage. Even working in the adoption field I could not even begin to imagine what she was going through to be 17 years old and going to an orphanage. Sarah, who used to work with me at KidsFirst, traveled to Russia in September and met her! She told me that she is very sweet and shy and is an excellent artist.

I had been interested to know what she is like and what she is interested in, but really had no way of finding that information out. However, on Monday we received an email with a letter from her! I was so excited because I honestly did not ever expect that she would write to us. Her letter was also much longer than I expected it to be and she really opened up in it about her life before she lived in the orphanage and her feelings about it, which is very rare. She attends school and works part-time and she hopes to attend the art school there next year. She described herself as calm, peace-loving, delicate and responsible.

If anyone has thought about becoming a pen pal with a child in a orphanage you really should. You have no idea how a simple letter and a photo every now and then can really make a difference. If you would like more information on how to become a pen pal, let me know and I'll put you in touch with someone. You can read about what Hope Chest does in Russia here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Super Simple Steak Sandwiches

Kevin loves steak sandwiches and I'm happy to make them because they are so easy and not time consuming at all!

The first thing to do is chop a small onion and one package of mushrooms. Saute them in a pan with butter, salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Cook about 6 or 7 minutes over medium heat until soft. You could also add green or red peppers here, I just didn't have any in the fridge!
While the mushrooms and onions are cooking, slice steak into thin strips. I usually buy the thin cut skillet steak because it is already thin sliced so you just need to cut it into strips. I think I paid $1.75 for each package - not too bad! Saute the steak with more salt and pepper over medium heat in a non-stick pan.
It doesn't take long - I would only cook a few minutes on each side so that it's slightly pink in the middle.
After cooking, place steak on any type of rolls that you choose. Kroger sells sweet bread that comes in two loaves about a foot long - that is what I use, but any type of crusty roll would work just fine. Top the steak with the mushrooms and onions, and the top with provolone or swiss cheese.
Place on a cookie sheet under the broiler in your oven for only a few minutes until the cheese is melted and the bread is slightly toasted. Be sure to watch it though because the broiler will make it cook really fast and you don't want it to be burnt!

We serve ours with lettuce, tomato, and Italian dressing! Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese

I absolutely LOVE anything and everything that involves buffalo chicken! But you already knew that didn't you? So, when I saw this recipe in Food Network Magazine awhile ago, I knew I had to try it! It was really easy to make, although I did manage to dirty quite a few dishes :)

Here are some photos, followed by the full recipe:

First you chop the onion and celery.
Saute in butter...
Add chicken and Franks hot sauce.
In another pan, melt butter, add flour and dry mustard, half and half, two kinds of cheese, and sour cream!
Put half of macaroni, or whatever type of pasta you want to use (I chose the spiral kind because they had it in whole grain and on sale!) in a dish, top with the chicken mixture, then the other half of the pasta, and pour the cheese sauce on top.
Cover with bread crumb mixture and bake!
Seriously, it's insanely good!

This recipe is enough to fill an entire 9x13 baking dish. I cut the recipe in half and it still makes a ton of food!

7 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound elbow macaroni, or other pasta
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup Frank's Buffalo Wing Sauce, divided
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2.5 cups half and half
1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
8 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded
2/3 cup sour cream
1 cup Panko bread crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the over to 350 degrees and butter a 9x13 baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to al dente directions. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt 3 Tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and garlic and cook 2 minutes, then add 1/2 cup Franks and simmer about 1 minute.

Melt 2 Tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and mustard with a wooden spoon until smooth. Whisk in the half and half, then add the remaining 1/4 cup Franks and stir until thick, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, then whisk in the sour cream until smooth.

Spread half the macaroni in the prepared baking dish, then top with the chicken mixture and then the remaining macaroni. Pour the cheese sauce evenly on top. Put the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter in a microwave safe bowl and microwave until melted. Stir in the panko bread crumbs, blue cheese and parsley. Sprinkle over the macaroni. Bake until bubbly, about 30 to 40 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving. If you're like me, you'll want to top your macaroni with extra Franks and serve with extra sour cream on the side :)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

It's Spring Time!!!

Spring is finally here! The weather is beautiful and all of the windows to our house are open! The one thing I don't like about Spring is my allergies. I spent the last week completely congested, but it seems to have passed finally!

The tulips are up!
Our Red Bud tree is in full bloom...

The rose bushes are looking good.
And we finally got to see what our peach tree looks like in the Spring!
And of course, the dandelions have arrived. Kevin is taking care of them as we speak!
I spent much of the day planting flowers that will still tolerate the cold just in case the temperature drops a lot at night. I planted some lilies...
That will eventually look like this:
And I'm not really sure what these are, but there were pretty and on sale!
And pansies in the window boxes!
Now we just have to wait until it gets a little bit warmer so we can plant our vegetable garden!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Helping People Who Are Living With Disabilities

The Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana (RHI) is in the running to be awarded a $250,000 grant from Pepsi for program funding. One of my brother's friends works there and let me know about it. We are also connected to RHI because the 2009 WestPoint Golf Outing benefited the KidsFirst Foundation as well as RHI.

The recipients of the grants are determined through internet voting. You can vote once a day for RHI until the voting period ends. It's really simple! Just go to to vote. You will be asked to create a log-in for Pepsi. They don't send you a bunch of junk email or anything, so that's nice. You just log-in and then vote for them everyday! Really simple to do and it goes for a great cause!