Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Dear Jackie

Dear Jackie,

You came into my life when we were just crazy teenagers. When I did crazy things like have my friends over when my mom wasn't home and use her bank info for a free month of America Online. (Sorry, Mom!) That's where I met you. On the internet. I don't remember the conversations. I don't remember what chat room we may have been in. But you agreed to meet us, me and my group of friends.  We met for the first time at Oakbrook Mall. I never really thought it'd be a long term thing but then you started dating one of my friends, so I thought I should get to know you.

I think that's where our friendship really began. We went and saw Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion. We both thought the movie was silly but it definitely felt like we bonded. Then we drove around and listened to music where we jammed to Veruca Salt's Volcano Girls. I will never, never, never forget that.

When I got pregnant in high school, and had to finish high school at home, I wrote to you. Telling you about my life and what was going on and that senior prom was coming up. Not only was I a new mom but I knew probably couldn't afford to go. One day, in the mail, I got a card from you. It had $500 dollars in it. For a prom dress. You did that. You did that for me. You didn't have to, but you did and you gave me the opportunity to go to my prom. I will never, never, never forget that.

The next time I saw you was when I visited you at Georgia Tech. It was my very first plane ride. I was scared but not as scared as I am to fly today. You met me at the airport and brought me to your dorm. I wasn't 21 yet but I was able to drink and have a good time with you and your friends. We got our first tattoos together. I felt like, for one weekend, I was just a college student along with you. I will never, never, never forget that.

We lost touch on and off but I found you again. This time you were married and had a baby girl of your own. I was about to get married. You actually gave me your wedding dress. Which I had altered, and wore. After that though, we lost touch again for a little while.

The next time we found each other, we didn't lose each other. We were both divorced and moving on. You came to see me in my first home with my fiance and kids. I came to see you for New Year's Eve. You spent a weekend with us at the family cabin in Minocqua. We talked. We texted. It wasn't all of the time, but we were always there for each other.

We always said that we felt like we walked through very similar things at very similar times. I know we were both battling. I wish I could have been there for you more. We were the twisted sisters.... Meredith and Cristina. I could tell you things I couldn't tell anyone else. I don't know if I can watch an episode of Grey's Anatomy ever again with out thinking of you. With out missing you. And I most definitely know that no one will appreciate violin playing goats with me as much as you did.

Jackie, no one will ever replace you. To hear that you passed, was like a part of my soul just dissolved. I hope if you are up there looking down at me, you can see how much I loved you. Our souls were always connected and I'm so sad and mad and sad again ten times over that I've lost you. And I'll forever be sorry I didn't get on that plane two months ago.

I pray that you are at peace. I will likely still talk to you, annoyingly so. Might be in the shower. Or when I'm belting out songs in the car. Or crying over Grey's.

I just want you to know that I am going to do better. I am going to try harder. I am going to push myself more. I am going to do it for both of us. I wish you realized how amazing of a person you were. You made a difference. No questions. My life is better because you were in it and I'm so sorry, Jackie, that I missed the mark.

I love you. My soul sister. I will never, never, never forget you. I can't believe you are gone. I can't even picture it right now.

But I will leave this post with something I know you would appreciate and something we would have appreciated together....

I love you, Jackie. Goodbye, soul sister and rest in peace.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Tasty Rigatoni Dish

Hi! I've had a few folks ask me for this super tasty Olive Garden knock-off recipe that I made the other night, so I thought... blog time!

I had a teeny-weeny momcation probably a month ago. I online ordered a dinner for myself from Olive Garden which was pretty local to the hotel I was staying at. I picked out their Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno and it was sooooooooper tasty. Oh my gosh, it was so good! I knew that I just had to figure out how to make it myself. It's actually something I love doing. I mean, I really like to cook, but I also love figuring out how to make my favorite dishes myself in my own kitchen!

Photo Courtesy of Olive Garden - This is their Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno

That's where the Googling began! I came across a blog called 'Dinner Then Dessert' where the author walks you through a copycat version of Olive Garden's tasty dish. I did do a few things differently though! Mostly because I can't ever find all of the ingredients I need at my local stores.

Photo Courtesy of Dinner Then Dessert

I don't care though because my version was bangin'!

Unfortunately, ziti was not an accessible ingredient to me. So I decided to go with rigatoni. It was pretty entertaining explaining that to my daughter who thought I was talking about a character from The Incredibles.

The right "Toni"

The wrong "Tony"

Either way, any like pasta will work for this dish. I really wish I had taken photos while I was cooking. Or at least of the final product. It looked so damn good.

Something to know about this dish is that it involves two different sauces. You'll need an alfredo sauce and a marinara sauce. I've bought jarred alfredo sauces before and they've always been pretty terrible. The author at 'Dinner and Dessert' linked to an alfredo sauce she uses for the recipe and it's the one that I used as well. It comes from a website called 'The Recipe Critic'

For the marinara sauce I would have normally bought Barilla, however, my local store was out of it. I ended up buying two jars of the Prego Farmers' Market Classic Marinara. In the future, I'd definitely like to try and make my own but the Prego option worked out quite well!

Alright... so... the recipe! I'm not good at writing recipes so if you have questions, feel free to ask!

I started out by preheating the oven to 375 degrees and then boiling water for my noodles, a 1 pound box of rigatoni. I cooked the noodles a couple of minutes under their normal doneness time. While that was going, I began working on my alfredo sauce.  Here are the ingredients/directions for that:

Alfredo Sauce Ingredients

1/2 cup salted butter
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 oz. cream cheese
1 garlic clove (minced)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 tsp ground thyme
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup grated parmesan

Cooking Instructions

1) In a medium/large saucepan melt together the butter, heavy cream and cream cheese.
2) Add minced garlic, garlic powder, oregano, basil, ground thyme, salt & pepper. Whisk until smooth and then add the parmesan cheese.
3) Simmer until the sauce thickens

Photo Courtesy of The Recipe Critic

Ziti (Rigatoni) Ingredients

1 lb Ziti or Rigatoni
2 - 23.5oz Prego Farmers' Market Classic Marinara Sauce
Entire Alfredo Sauce Recipe from above
1/2 cup Ricotta Cheese
1/2 cup Italian Blend Shredded Cheese

2 cups Mozzarella Cheese
1/2 cup panko or plain breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Italian Blend Shredded Cheese
1 garlic clove (minced)

Cooking Instructions

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2) Cook pasta two minutes under normal cook time and according to box directions. Drain.
3) In the same saucepan as the pre-made alfredo sauce, add cooked noodles, two jars of marinara sauce, ricotta and 1/2 cup Italian Blend Shredded cheese. Mix well.
4) Add mixture to a large skillet or large baking dish (I used a 10"X 13" glass baking dish).
5) Mix topping ingredients together in separate bowl and add over the top of the pasta.
6) Bake 30-35 minutes uncovered until golden brown and bubbly.

See? Super easy! And SUPER TASTY! I actually microwaved some of the leftovers for dinner tonight and it was still delicious!

One thing to note, I made this meal for 7 hungry bellies. AND there were leftovers. If you aren't feeding as many you can definitely cut this down. You can always make a full batch of the alfredo sauce and jar what you don't use as well

There you have it! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them! I hope you enjoy your friggin' delicious ziti (or rigatoni) as much as we did!!