Dream Foundation

Chicken Tetrazini for Talia

The death of a child is something so deeply soul-wrenching I can’t pretend to know about it.My first experience with a child dying was when I was just a child myself.  I’m not sure I even cried.  My neighbor, a new friend a bit older than me, had a younger brother with cancer.  I played at her house a lot and visited with her brother now and then.  I know his death impacted me but I was young and I didn’t know him all that well.  What impacted me more was what their mother said about his funeral.  I will quote it even though I don’t have the exact words because her message was so important to me all my life I feel like I remember the words exactly.  “The casket will be closed because I don’t want you to remember him as sick.  I want you to remember him when he was healthy, riding his bike through the neighborhood with his baseball cap on backwards and a big smile on his face.”  Even as a young child, I remember thinking she was so wise.  In all the agony of her son dying, she was thinking about how we would remember her son in his short life and she wanted us to remember his happiness, not be saddened by his pain.  I'm not sure I could have been so wise.

Firstborn Daughter also had a friend who died of cancer. Her friend was 21 years old and had survived disease for five years when it finally overtook her.  She was funny, smart, beautiful and was attending Stanford University, taking intermittent breaks for chemotherapy treatments when she wasn’t in remission.  Like me, Firstborn Daughter was heartbroken at the news she was gone.  But as a parent, my biggest heartbreak was for her mom and dad.  I couldn't imagine the pain.

And then there was Talia. Talia died in an instant on December 23, 2007.  She was 13. When I thought about Talia’s mother and how she was feeling, I knew food would not appease her pain.  But I wanted to offer her comfort in the only way I knew.  I thought about foods that offered me comfort as a child and I made the food for Talia, putting all the love I had into the chicken tetrazini that I brought to Talia’s mother, the mother who just lost her only child.  I cried while making it, thinking of beautiful Talia and her life cut short, thinking of her mom and the loss so great her heart could never be whole again, not thinking about how I would feel in her situation because that grief was too big to imagine.

I didn’t expect to hear from her. I certainly didn’t expect her to care about the food.  But she did. Somehow, that little shred of comfort was important and she let me know.  She asked for more.  I was so honored, so grateful and so blessed to make it for her again.  I’m sure the grieving mother doesn’t remember much about those months following her daughters death, and I’m certain she doesn’t remember the chicken tetrazini.  But I do.  It was the only thing I had to give to a grieving heart that couldn’t be helped, or healed, or fixed.  Cooking for Talia helped me experience the loss and realize that food is one thing that everyone needs when grieving.  Sharing your love through food can touch someone whose heart is so broken you wonder if it will keep beating. And in some little way it might help them heal.

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“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey." - Eli Brown

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Chicken Tetrazini for Talia*

3 chicken breasts, bone-in 4 cups chicken broth 8 T butter 1 T olive oil 1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced 1 sweet yellow onion, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1-1/2 tsp dried thyme 1/2 cup dry white wine 1/3 cup flour 4 cups whole milk, room temperature 1 cup heavy cream, room temperature 1/8 tsp nutmeg 1-1/2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp pepper 12 oz linguine 3/4 cup frozen peas 1/4 cup chopped fresh italian parsley 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/4 cup Italian style breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place the chicken and 4 cups of broth in a pot.  Add water until chicken is submerged.  Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Turn off heat, cover and leave until completely cooled.  Remove chicken from liquid and shred into a large bowl.  Reserve 1 cup of broth.

Put 1 T of butter and 1 T oil into the pan.  Add mushrooms and sauté over medium high heat about 5-8 minutes until pan is dry and mushrooms are starting to brown.  Add onions and continue to stir over medium high heat another 5-8 minutes until onions are soft.  Add garlic and thyme and sauté 2 minutes.  Add wine and stir until liquid evaporates.  Pour into bowl with chicken and mix well.

Melt 3 T butter in pan over medium low heat and whisk in flour.  Cook for 2 minutes and whisk in milk, cream, remaining 1 cup broth, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Increase heat to high and bring to boil.  Simmer until sauce thickens slightly, whisking frequently.  This takes about 10 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add linguine and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes.  Drain.  Add the linguine, cream sauce, peas and parsley to the chicken mixture and toss until the sauce coats everything and it is well blended.

Spread 1 T butter into a 13"x9" baking dish and pour the pasta mixture into the dish.  Mix the Parmesan and breadcrumbs together and sprinkle over the pasta.  Dot with remaining 3 T butter and bake, uncovered, until golden brown on top and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes.

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*This recipe is rewritten from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe.

Dreamy Figs for Thom

Sometimes your children surprise you.  They say something and you look at them thinking, "Who are you and what have you done with my child?"

That is exactly what happened in late 2010 when Firstborn Daughter said she wanted to talk to me about her 21st birthday.  I had been anticipating this conversation for years because Firstborn Daughter is an extrovert to the extreme.  There is not a person she won't talk to and not a party she won't attend.  She sent me a card for my birthday that year, knowing how much it would remind me of her.  It was covered in gold sparkles and quoted "One Cannot Have Too Large A Party."  So when I say I was anticipating the conversation about her 21st birthday, I was actually dreading it.

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My mind starting racing....how am I going to let her down easy?  How am I going to tell her that we are not going to invite all her 1,400 facebook "friends" to Vegas.  We are not going to rent out a New York Club with an all-night vodka ice slide.  I was calmly preparing for the "We Are Not" conversation as I braced myself.

She said, "I now have two friends my age who have been diagnosed with cancer.  I have an idea to raise money for others with a goal that I would reach by my 21st birthday. "  After I picked myself up off the floor and was able to respond positively without too much incredulousness and without flat out crying at her beauty, I listened to her idea.  It was of course, brilliant.

"I want to design a bracelet.  But not an ugly rubber one like those that millions of people buy.  I want to design something fashionable and simple and sell it for $21 so it is still affordable but people would actually want to wear it.  I would partner with a nonprofit so people could donate the money to the charity.  I would ask everyone to buy them instead of giving me a birthday present this year."

I loved her idea and after excitedly talking about how she could get started, I asked what her goal was.  I was thinking $1,000 or even $5,000 was doable and was an admirable goal.  Without a pause she said, "I want to raise $21,000."  Wow.  That's a lot of bracelets.  But there was not a doubt in her mind that she could do it.  And by the end of our conversation, I was almost convinced that she could.

She already had a charity in mind.  She started calling.  And calling.  And emailing.  And calling.  The holidays came and went and she finally got a meeting with someone.  She called me after the meeting feeling dejected.  The charity said they were happy to let her use their name for the campaign, but they could not give her any input, support or promote the bracelets in any way.  They would accept the money that she raised.  It was not the relationship she was hoping for and caused her to second-guess her idea.    As fate would have it, because fate sometimes works in funny ways, one of her friends with cancer died the following week, in January 2011, at age 21.

Firstborn Daughter and I were heartbroken.  Sarah had been diagnosed in high school and had gone in and out of remission for years, allowing her to experience and accomplish amazing things.  She had traveled, given speeches, gone sky diving, visited friends, wrote stories, and attended Stanford University.  We were fortunate to be amongst those friends she visited.  Firstborn Daughter reminisced about Sarah's visit and the fun they had.  We both laughed about Sarah telling us she got a Mini-Cooper for her birthday.  Sarah said, "Yeah.  My parents NEVER would have gotten me that nice of a car if I didn't have cancer."  Sarah knew how to look for The Silver Linings and kept us all laughing while she found them.

Firstborn Daughter said, "I am definitely doing my bracelet campaign.  For Sarah.  I need my 21st birthday to mean something."  And fate stepped in again.  I was going to a meeting that very night for National Charity League (NCL) because they were introducing us to a nonprofit that NCL would be supporting in the coming year.  It was called Dream Foundation.  And they support the final wishes of terminal adults. (Other organizations only grant to age 18.)  The founder, Thomas Rollerson was speaking that night.  I asked Firstborn Daughter if that charity fit her needs and if I should see if they liked her idea.  "Yes!  What a perfect fit!  I could support the dreams of people who may not even make it to age 21," was her enthusiastic response.

Everything happens for a reason.... The response from the Dream Foundation founder Thom was "Yes! Yes! Yes!"  I still remember his boyhood excitement over the idea that I could barely get out of my mouth before he responded.  We all knew it was meant to be.  They had just received a dream request that very day for a girl to have a 21st birthday party, which would be the dreamer's last time to gather with family and friends. I still get chills just thinking about it.

Firstborn Daughter wearing DREAM FOR 21 bracelets.

Firstborn Daughter did it.  She took a little idea, and a lot of hard work and compassion, and allowed 21 people to have a final dream come true as her 21st birthday gift to herself.  Her DREAM FOR 21 campaign for Dream Foundation raised over $40,000, one bracelet at a time.  And that isn't even the end of the story.  Dream Foundation found another compassionate 20-year-old, Annabel, to design a bracelet and support the next campaign.  The dream goes on….you can buy your DREAM FOR 21 bracelet here to support someone's final dream.  And yes.  It is still just $21.

Dream Foundation, and the amazing generosity of spirit surrounding the organization, has changed my world.  Our whole family supports it, especially Baby Girl who worked tirelessly to help her sister's campaign and create new youth programs at Dream Foundation.  The enthusiasm of the founder (who is now my good friend) permeates the offices of the foundation.  The staff are warm and caring and friendly.  It is like walking into a big hug each time you enter their offices.  And Thom's infectious, loving charm makes any day you see him a better day.

What a smile!

Thom and I and our significant others went for a beach walk the other day, followed by cocktails and snacks.  I threw together a pretty little platter with my garden figs to eat while we sat out enjoying the beautiful fall day.  The combination of flavors was delicious.  Looking back at photos of my happy platter of figs warms my heart with the joy of knowing Thom and being part of Dream Foundation.  Life is but a dream.

Dreamy White Figs.

"One cannot have too large a party." - Jane Austen

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Dreamy Figs for Thom

3 fresh figs, not too soft (I used white) 2 oz goat cheese 2 T mandarin marmalade (or any citrus jam or marmalade) fresh ground pepper to taste flake salt to taste

Slice figs crossways to make 1/4 thick rounds. Top with a healthy crumble of goat cheese drizzle with jam (warm up for easier drizzling) grind pepper and sprinkle salt on top

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