Thanks. One word we toss around so casually.

“Thank you” seems to come from my own mouth dozens of times a day. When this time of year rolls around and I see the flood of #thankful in my social media feeds (slight eye roll), I can’t help but to do a little reflection of my own.

I have quite a lot to be grateful for – a roof over my head, the ability to express myself without much fear or repercussion, my health, my sacred relationships and so on. On an even more gracious note, when it comes to being thankful for family, I am blessed … and I don’t toss around the b-word often.

See, each of the 4 members in my family lives in completely different states. From the east coast the the west coast, we’re completely spread out and require a plane ticket (or loooong car ride) to see one another. Regardless of physically meeting, the almost spiritual connection I feel from our bond is intensely strong due to our backstories, struggles and triumphs.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the Ronald McDonald House in Richmond to see if I’d like to cover a recipe from a special edition of the Southern Living Christmas Cookbook, Dillard’s was selling to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.

They’d give me a free cookbook and I’d post a recipe.

But it was deeper than a recipe or a cookbook.

IMG_0143When I entered the beautiful house on Monument Avenue (already decked in Holiday decor) to pick up my cookbook, I was immediately taken back to 2010 when my weary family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Augusta, Georgia, after discovering my 21 year old brother was diagnosed with a childhood leukemia, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (also known as a ALL).

Although I didn’t stay at the RMDH my parents did (as his older and only sister, I stayed with him in his hospital room, worried every moment and laughed until late hours watching Dave Chappell Show on DVD) and several times after their initial stay, during the course of Bret’s (that’s my brother) treatments. In the safe space of the RMDH, they were able to connect with others undergoing the same shock and have the support of the wise and understanding staff that had likely seen it all.

So walking back into a RMDC, the same delicate energy of healing, strength and exhaustion our own family experienced was powerfully present. Besides my own personal flashback, it also reminded me of the thankless acts of kindness from the volunteers who work there, the local business and community who donate time, resources and goods to keep the house running. So thank you to all who contribute to making this safe haven of refuge possible.

(more about my brother at the bottom of this post)

cookbookIf you’re a little foggy on this amazing charity, the Ronald McDonald House provides a place for families to stay during pediatric hospitalization and treatments at no cost. Not only do they provide a safe space to crash after long days at the hospital and emotional support, but they also provide dinner, washers and dryers for laundry, games and activities for siblings and on-the-go meal packs to take to the hospital to snack on. There are 600 houses in over 60 countries. They do amazing work.

If you’d like to learn more and learn how you can be of service at our local house, visit http://www.rmhc-richmond.org/

Want to get the cookbook? It’s a steal at $10 (and make for a great gift). Find it at Dillard’s at Stony Point or Short Pump mall. Want to avoid the crowd? You can also purchase it online here.

Okay, now on to this recipe! I sifted through the cookbook looking for the first recipe to attempt and it came completely natural, Macaroni and Cheese. This recipe called for 4 cheeses … I was most definitely in.

It might not be adventurous, but it’s absolutely necessary, especially this time of year and when I saw this recipe calls for pecans and bacon, I was sold.

Southern Living

Four-cheese Macaroni by: Southern Living’s Christmas Cookbook

  • 12 ounces cavatappi pasta
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 cups (8 oz.) freshly shredded white Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) freshly shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) freshly shredded fontina cheese
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) freshly shredded Asiago cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups soft, fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup chopped cooked bacon
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted (again, substituted 1 tablespoon for coconut oil)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare pasta according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, melt 1/2 cup butter in a Dutch oven over low heat; whisk in flour and ground red pepper until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, 6 to 7 minutes or until milk mixture is thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat. *I added a little bit of fresh grated nutmeg to this*

3. Toss together Cheddar cheese and next 3 ingredients in a medium bowl; reserve 1 1/2 cups cheese mixture. Add remaining cheese mixture and hot cooked pasta to sauce, tossing to coat. Spoon into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Top with reserved 1 1/2 cups cheese mixture.

4. Toss together breadcrumbs and next 3 ingredients; sprinkle over cheese mixture.

5. Bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.


ThanksgivingResults? It was a hit.

Somehow, I cooked the pasta nearly perfect and the creamy cheese mixture was smooth and not overly cheesy, the grated nutmeg also gave it a little hint of sweetness that balanced the flavors perfectly. Next time, I will be a little more liberal on the white cheddar and bacon to give it a little more punch.

With all the positive feedback, it’ll be expected the Christmas menu.

And about my brother… he’s in remission. After undergoing some intense chemotherapy, a handful of scary setbacks and a whole lot of support, he’s living life and treats each day and interactions full of his own sacred thanks. He’s one of the most amazing people I know as I’ve been a true witness to his growth, downfalls and bravery.

Just a little pictorial chronology of those beautiful and raw sacred moments (and all weird stages of hair growth – and no growth) …




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