Monday, February 20, 2012

My Chicken Noodle Soup

This is probably my favorite thing I make.

Well, I really like the pizza Jeremy and I make...

And I really like cheesecake....

I don't make good biscuits, though...I need to work on that...


I adapted this recipe from a Rachael Ray Chicken and Couscous recipe from several years ago.  Someone asked me for the recipe, and I directed them to Rachael Ray's website.  Then, the person told me, "Ummm...that recipe really isn't anything like what you make."

And it wasn't.  That's when I realized that I probably adapted Rachael's concoction into something else.  I still like to make couscous with it (it's a very fine, small pasta - similar in texture to...well, I don't know.  Kind of like grits, but not really.  You either love or hate couscous.), but I've found that it works really well as a chicken noodle soup, too.  It's warm, rich, and comforting - something that will make your heart happy on a cold night.   Freeze it without the noodles and it'll make you a happy little lunch or impromptu dinner.  Chill it and eat it the next night, and you'll find that it only gets better the next day.

I use a lot of fresh thyme in this recipe.   If you do not like thyme, do not make/eat/convince yourself you will like this soup.  If you can make your own chicken stock, do it.  I know that sounds crazy.  I know it sounds like I am insane.  But once you make your own stock and realize how insanely deep and rich it is, it becomes very difficult to want anything made by people who put their stock into a box.  Ina Garten has a straight-up, legit recipe for stock here.

There is something about the combination of shallot, thyme and bay leaf in this that makes the best soup ever.  Well, at least in my opinion. :)

If you're going to serve the soup right away, egg noodles are fine.  If you're going to put it in a crock pot and serve it to guests for several hours, use a stronger pasta.  I prefer penne for this soup.

I'll still call this recipe an adaptation in case Rachael stumbles upon my blog one day and wants to sue me.

Without any further interruption...

Chicken Noodle Soup  (Adapted from Rachael Ray's Chicken and Couscous with Vegetables)

Serves 4

2 quarts and one can, chicken stock (homemade if you have it, low-sodium if you don't)
1 shallot, diced fine
2 whole carrots, diced
1 or 2 bay leaves
Several sprigs fresh time (seven to ten - more if you want)
Four boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cups dry noodles (preferably something that will hold up to soup, like penne or farfalle)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil

In a large dutch oven, saute the shallot, thyme, carrots in olive oil.  Once the shallot has become translucent, add in your chicken stock slowly, scraping any bits of shallot from the bottom of your pan.  Add in the bay leaf, salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a boil.  Make sure to taste your broth at this time to see if it is seasoned properly (homemade stock tends to need a little more salt).

Once the mixture comes to a boil, add in your chicken breasts.  Lower the heat and allow the chicken breasts to slowly poach in the liquid for about fifteen minutes.  When the chicken breasts have cooked through, dice or shred them and return cooked chicken to the pot.  Add in the pasta and allow the mixture to simmer until the pasta has cooked through.  The longer you allow the soup to simmer the better the taste will be, but once the pasta has cooked you can serve immediately.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Candy Bar, a Coke, and a Legacy

So many teachers are burdened at this time of year.  For most of us, the burden stems from uncertainty.  Teachers like control.  The fear of the unknown scares us.  Nightmares plague most teachers concerning the ability to maintain a controlled classroom, perform to expectations, and to set a good example for students.

My fellow teachers and I work in a profession that becomes more undervalued and unappreciated with each daunting year.  As the stakes raise higher, our salaries sink lower.  The word of a teacher was once appreciated and taken as gospel truth - today's teachers can battle embittered parents, face the burden of "the system," and wade through the murky waters of bureaucracy.  And, unfortunately, members of our profession have taken advantage of their authority and made a bad name for the rest of us.

Sometimes it is important for those in "the trenches" with me to remember why we got into this profession in the first place.

Sometimes, it is important to remember a Wayne.

Wayne Bradshaw was a football coach - not just an assistant coach or some rinky-dink coach who gets into the game for a few years - but a football legend.  His name permeates stat books and win columns. 

I didn't know Wayne during his coaching years.  I would have loved to see him in action, calling plays and making boys run, but I didn't know that side of him.  I knew him from East Hall Middle School as the in-school suspension (or ISS) teacher.  ISS deals with the children who are being disciplined, and it isn't an easy position to fill.

In some schools, ISS is where some teachers are sent to meet their professional death.

Wayne, however, took his position seriously.  He was at work before I was.  He left after I did. His ISS room was full of rules - structure, organization, writing.  A trip to his room was not supposed to entail a pleasant experience, but rather an experience that would make the student ponder getting into repeated trouble.

Wayne always had a joke on his lips, a sarcastic remark under his breath, and a helping hand to offer.  His stories were long, varied, and heartfelt.  He came to my room during so many pre-planning days with bottles of cleaner and rags, ready to help me out, to offer any assistance needed. He was genuinely and thoroughly  loved by many at my school.

Sadly, a cold February morning brought with it a harsh reality.

Almost a year ago to this very day, Wayne Bradshaw lost his life to a heart attack while hiking - while doing something he loved.

I lost a beloved co-worker and friend.  

I also became aware of an unforgettable legacy.

At Wayne's funeral, people spoke about his accolades.  About his wonderful spirit.  About his ability to coach football and motivate people.

A young sixth grade girl, however, was the speaker who was able to sum up Wayne's post-coaching accomplishments in her eulogy.

After the floor opened for people to share their memories about Wayne, the young girl boldly approached the stage.  She was still dressed in her school uniform.  She looked out at the expectant crowd and told her story.

As long as I live, her story - her words - will forever resonate with me.

This girl was in ISS with Wayne for a few days and was distraught - downright dismayed - about being in trouble.  I don't know what she did to get in trouble - she did not reveal (nor did she want to reveal) what she did.  She did reveal, however, that she was a sixth-grade girl, she was in ISS, and she was upset about being in ISS.

Wayne was burdened for this young girl.  He often dealt with the hard-edged students, and he knew full well how to administer tough love, but this girl cried her whole first day of ISS.  Wayne watched her that day, troubled.  He had students do all sorts of depraved things in ISS (and I can attest to those stories), but the girl who cried spoke to him.

The next morning, the Friday morning of the girl's second day of ISS, Wayne met with his pals at Longstreet Cafe.  It was an early Friday-morning breakfast and "man talk."  Guess what Wayne mentioned to his pastor?

The girl in ISS.

Anyone who knew Wayne knew that he always had a plan, and this day was no different.  Strategy was at the core of Wayne's DNA.  Coach had a plan for the second day to make the girl think, and even though his plan didn't consist of Xs and Os, he knew what he had to do.

Wayne didn't tell me this story. I only know it through the eulogized thoughts of the little girl - the girl Wayne moved enough to stand in front of countless strangers to speak at his funeral.

The girl was his only ISS student that day.

After his break, Wayne came in with a treat for the girl - a candy bar and a coke.

Wayne sat down beside her and offered up his little peace offering.  The girl's words betrayed her emotion as she spoke - one could tell she was happy to see those treats.

Wayne told her that if she agreed to sit with him and talk and agree to never be in ISS again, that he would share this special treat with her.  The girl - the girl in trouble - was getting an olive branch the size of Texas.

She readily agreed.

"You're too good for ISS," he told her.

Wayne's words broke her.  I don't know if anyone told this child before that moment that she was good, worthy, or deserving.  I don't know if a male ever bought her a present in her life.

What I do know is that she needed to hear those words on that Friday.  She needed that candy bar and that coke.

As time would have it, the young girl saw Wayne on Friday.  On Saturday, Wayne climbed a mountain and lost his life.  On Monday, the girl who thought she had found someone to believe in her came to school to find that the teacher who made an impact on her life - that special man - was gone.

The heartbroken girl fled the funeral podium in tears that day, but what she did not realize was the profound impact she had on every educator in that room.

What she didn't realize was that the legacy of Wayne touched her life. 

Wayne had a life so full of love.  Sports, accolades, achievement and family weaved through the tapestry of his amazing life.

In Wayne's last twenty-four hours, he could have relaxed in the ease of retirement and luxury - he could have basked in the glow of his football glory.  Yet, he spent it giving love to a little girl who desperately needed it.

Wayne's trophy room is full of trophies.  Yet, his little symbols of love, those testaments of grace, will forever resonate with the students and athletes he touched.  The glow of love in the eyes of his family when they tell his stories and speak of him will always be his crowning achievement.  The depth and impact of his legacy may never be fully realized, but it is there, it is real, and it has and continues to make a difference.

A candy bar and a coke.  Two symbols of compassion.

What is better way to spend the last twenty-four hours of your life than to give it in love and sacrifice to others?  What is better than to live a life full of compassion?  Live a life like Wayne - so that when the parallel meets the perpendicular you hear, "well done, my good and faithful servant.  Well done."

Well done, Coach.

"I want to leave a legacy/
how will they remember me/
did I choose to love?"
- Nichole Nordeman