Monday, March 19, 2012

HaPpY BiRtHdAy!!!!

I know this is a blog about cooking, but today I wanted to share a story about this kid,

And, much to my father's disappointment, this is not a story about a little boy on a quest to get a haircut that ends with he and his papa sharing a shamrock shake to celebrate his newly cropped military-style buzz cut.    

Today is my oldest mini's 9th birthday!!!!

Every year on his birthday, I sit down and reflect about my mini and all that has happened since his 1st birthday.  I usually write in a journal, although one year I did blog about it.  This morning I found myself reaching for a journal, and it dawned on me...maybe I should tell the story here.  I know this is a cooking blog, and if you are here for recipes, you can skip over all of this and scroll to the end, where I am including some tasty ones.  But, I also recognize that this blog is not just about food, it's about the McGhees.  And to really know who we are, you really need to know this story.  

My oldest mini's name is Jack and he is what we call handicapable.  Do not call him handicapped or he will pummel your ass to the ground.  Think I am kidding?  Try it.  But first I must tell you this kiddo still doesn't weigh 60 lbs, but can bench-press 90 lbs.  Don't believe me.  Ask him.  And be prepared for a demonstration.

Jack was born with a very rare rare it doesn't even have a name.  We call it "Just Jack" because we have never found anyone out there with the same syndrome.  When I was 20 weeks pregnant with Jack, the ultrasound tech found issues in his spine and his kidneys.  We spent the next 18 weeks going to ultrasounds and hearing from doctors that something definitely wasn't right, but they couldn't tell us exactly what was wrong.  On the day that Jack was born, we finally got the answers we so desperately wanted those 18 weeks.  In the operating room, I heard him cry out and over his cries, I heard the doctor yell to get the NICU now.  A nurse told Mr. McGhee, "you should have told us about your baby" and Mr. McGhee replied, "we didn't know".  To which the nurse said, "how could you not know?!?"  At this point, I still had not seen Jack, so they wrapped him up and briefly showed him to me.  I remember looking at him and thinking I had just given birth to the most beautiful baby ever born.  

My sweet baby was taken off to the NICU and I insisted Mr. McGhee go with.  I spent hours in the recovery room waiting to hear about Jack.  Unfortunately, nobody had any information for me.  I was eventually taken to a room, and Jack was stable enough to meet me there.  In the room, Mr. McGhee was holding our sweet, swaddled baby and he gently explained that the doctors have found things wrong with Jack's spine, hip, leg, and foot.  I unswaddled him and was crushed when I saw this, 

I was heartbroken and overwhelmed.  All I could think was how can you live a life with a leg like that?  And spine problems?  And who had ever even heard of a baby with hip problems???  Then, before I had time to process any of it, the doctors started coming in.  One by one, each of them had bad news for us.  Problems in the heart, problems in the kidney, abnormally large head, spinal abnormalities, club foot, hip dysplasia.  He needed surgery, casting, MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, and genetic testing.  And in the midst of all that, I was supposed to figure out how to be an exhausted, overwhelmed, breastfeeding mom.  Every question I asked went unanswered.  Will he ever walk?  We don't know.  Will he be normal?  We are expecting cognitive delays.  Is he going to die?  We can't tell you anything about life expectancy.

You never forget the feeling of sobbing and praying please not let my baby die.  

We were able to take Jack home after a few days.  We spent those first few weeks going back to the hospital every day for appointments and tests.  And we started getting good news.  His heart defect was stable.  He was missing a kidney, but the one he had was functioning.  His abnormal head?  Turned out to be nothing, just a big head.  We got that news the day before Mother's Day.  Jack was 6 weeks old and I began to relax and pray for him to just be normal.

Fast forward to today and I've got the goofiest "normal" kid I have ever dreamed of having.  In 9 years, Jack has been in the operating room probably 15 times for hip, foot, and leg surgery.  He has undergone a leg lengthening, which we have been told by doctors is the single-most painful thing a person can ever endure.  He has gone to over 500 therapy sessions.  He has worn some sort of brace, cast, harness every-single day of his life since he was 5 days old.  

Are you reading that and thinking "how can that be considered normal?"  If you are, that just means you haven't met Jack.  Jack is a bright boy and an average student that loves school and hates homework.  He can't play most sports, but loves them anyway.  His true passion is swimming.  He absolutely thrives off of knowing his competition expects nothing from him, and then smoking them to the finish line.  He loves legos, video games, and riding his bike.  He started a charity at age 6.  His best friend is his devoted little brother, Max.  If you ask anyone to describe Jack, the first word they use is "funny" followed by "inspirational".  And that is Jack.  Funny and inspiring.

Everyone has their insecurities, Jack wears his on the outside for the world to see.  Someone once pointed out to me that to live in Jack's body would be like writing all your insecurities on a note card and taping that to card to your forehead for the world. to see.  Um, no thank you.  By the Grace of God, Jack has chosen to accept and embrace his insecurities.  He focuses on his strengths and his "cans" rather than his weaknesses and his "can'ts".  And he finds humor in a leg that doesn't bend, toes that have no feeling, and a heart that has a hole but certainly is not broken.  

So, why am I telling you all of this?  It's probably hard to believe, but Jack is the rock of our family.  It's ironic that the kid with the deformed vertebrae would be the backbone of the McGhee household, but he is. Because of Jack, we have been blessed with this thing called perspective.  He keeps us grounded and focused on what our priorities are....our family, our friends, our faith, laughter, adventure and our health.  

So, it is with joy that the McGhee family celebrates Jack's 9th birthday today!  Because today is a school day, we celebrated yesterday as well.  By request, Jack had a guys-only trip to the driving range.  While they were gone, I whipped up a special birthday meal.  By request I made homemade chicken strips and fruit salad for the birthday boy.  I also made spicy honey chicken, spinach salad, and stuffed mini peppers.

Homemade chicken strips
  • chicken breast, cut into strips
  • egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (you can buy whole grain breadcrumbs, or make your own by running stale bread through the food processer)
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan
  • 1 tbsp melted butter (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350F. 
2.  On a plate mix the breadcrumbs, spices, and parmesan cheese.
3.  Dip the chicken in the egg.
4.  Dredge the chicken through the breadcrumb mixture.
5.  Put in a lightly greased baking pan.  
6.  Drizzle melted butter over chicken.  Bake until cooked thoroughly, about 20-30 minutes.

Fruit Salad.

Spicy Honey Chicken (from our best bites)

Chicken Rub
  • 2 tsp granulated garlic 
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
1.  Mix all spices together.
2.  Drizzle oil on chicken and rub the chicken rub onto the chicken (how's that for obvious?)
3.  Grill/pan fry chicken until no longer pink in the middle.
4.  Warm honey and add vinegar.
5.  Pour honey/vinegar mixture on chicken.  

I served the spicy honey chicken with a spinach and blood orange salad.  I served mine with my favorite dressing.  

  • 2/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon honey

1.  Whisk all ingredients together. 

Spinach and Blood Orange salad
  • 1-2 handfuls of spinach per person
  • 3 blood oranges
  • 2 avocados
  • fresh ground pepper
  • feta cheese
  • toasted walnuts (put walnuts on pan on stove and cook a few minutes, stirring often)
1.  Put all ingredients on a platter.  Serve with dressing.

Blood oranges are my newest obsession.  They are amazingly delish.  You should expect many more blood orange recipes in the near future.

Stuffed mini bell peppers

  • 15-20 mini sweet peppers
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup goat cheese (you can substitute mozzarella, but I don't know why you would want to)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tbsp diced sun dried tomatoes
  • salt and pepper
1. Cut the tops off the peppers and clean out the seeds.
2. In a bowl, mix cream cheese and goat cheese.
3. Add garlic, basil, sun dried tomatoes, salt and pepper.
4. Using a small spoon, fill the mini pepper with the mixture.
5. OPTIONAL: brush peppers with olive oil and bake/broil for 5-10 minutes until pepper is soft. 

Dessert was tart cherry apple crunch.

Tart Cherry-Apple Crunch
This is what Dr. Weil has to say about this dessert....Food as Medicine 
There is no better start to a dessert than with plump, tart cherries and apples. And the walnuts in here add not only a crunchy texture, they also contribute healthful omega-3 fatty acids.
The insoluble fiber in apples attaches to LDL cholesterol in the digestive tract and removes it from the body; adding one large apple to the daily diet has been shown to reduce serum cholesterol by up to 11 percent.

  • 1 pound frozen pitted tart cherries
  • 1 green apple, cored and diced
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cherry or apple juice
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped 2 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 3 tablespoons grape seed oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1. Preheat oven to  400°F.
2. In a bowl, toss together the cherries, apple, brown sugar, and almond extract.
3. In a cup, mix the cornstarch and juice and add to the fruit mixture, stirring well.
4. Pour the mixture into an 8-inch-square baking dish sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
5. Mix together the remaining ingredients. Crumble the mixture on top of the fruit.
6. Bake for 30 minutes. Raise heat to broil and brown topping lightly for 1-2 minutes. Remove from oven. Serve warm or cold.  (I say you're nuts if you serve this cold, serve it warm!!!!)

My sweet boy making his wish.

We also had Dole whips for dessert.  I was introduced to Dole whips a few weeks ago when I was in Disneyworld.  I tried to replicate them at home.  The kids gave them two thumbs up, the adults said, "tastes like pineapple juice with sherbet".  

Dole Whip
  • Dole pineapple juice
  • sherbet, pineapple or orange (YES, I know sherbet has more than 5 ingredients....I cheated!)
1.  Pour juice in a glass.  Put in a scoop or two of sherbet.

If you have read this far, thank you for "listening".  Now I've got to scoot.  I've got a birthday boy that has requested pumpkin muffins for dessert tonight!