Giving Life, Celebration & Aidan’s Pizza

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Have you ever read my About Page here? Take a look at #6. Today is the day.

“I started this blog because I have promised myself to follow in William’s light. This is just another example of me stepping out of my comfort zone. If it helps just one grieving parent celebrate their child’s life then my mission has been accomplished.”

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April is Donate Life month.

Krista Skinner is mom to Kyle, Molly and our donor hero, Aidan. Krista follows Good Grief Cook. She, her husband and children hope to spread awareness about organ donation by sharing Aidan’s story.  After Aidan died she became involved with The New England branch of Donate Life where she spoke about a family decision to donate Aidan’s organs. An honor followed when Boston Children’s hospital asked to share Aidan’s story as well. Krista wrote to me last week asking if I would be willing to share her story on the blog. She wrote, “I am giving you the link because your blog inspired me to share with others, and I hope you will read what you gave me the courage to write.” It’s an honor to celebrate Aidan Skinner here today.

My blue-eyed boy: The decision to donate life

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Hot, humid air arrived that last week in June 2014. Our family was looking forward to a summer of entertaining, barbecuing and sharing our newly built patio with friends. Spending time as a family hiking, traveling or just hanging out at home was important to us. Aidan was ready to head off to a three-day goalie lacrosse camp. It was something he had begged to do all winter long.

Aidan loved life and he lived it with passion. Aidan or AJ, depending on who you asked, had his future completely planned. He played basketball, swam and skied. As a Boy Scout, he had spent many days camping and hiking throughout New England and he worked each day delivering the local paper on his bike. In the winter, he loved to create huge, elaborate snow forts. On vacations, he and his two siblings were thrill-ride junkies. He loved to draw and doodle.

A Lego fan, his creations are everywhere in our home. It was a Christmas tradition for him and his brother to spend a good part of the day building. Aidan was a dedicated student: a treasurer for the student council, a member of the Junior National Honor Society, a part of the debate team and a volunteer at every charity event. Every other Sunday, he was an altar server at our parish. But above everything else, Aidan loved lacrosse and cooking.

The aspiring chef, Aidan, planned on attending culinary school at Johnson and Wales. From there, he was headed to Harvard to complete his MBA so he could start building his restaurant empire. He had even planned his first restaurant, Boston Water, a floating building in the harbor. I still have the menu he designed. As a family we spent many days together in the kitchen or by the grill creating meals. We loved to travel and one of my favorite memories was Aidan’s excitement shopping in a local neighborhood market in Paris. He had no fear at the age of ten trying to get vendors to understand his incredibly limited French. He would try any food you offered him!

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AJ, the lacrosse goalie, was a leader. He wasn’t afraid to take charge. His dream was to play on the high school’s varsity team. Every day he was out there practicing alone or with friends. We knew going to goalie camp was going to be the highlight of his summer. The evening before he left, we grilled pizzas and planned the Fourth of July menu. He wanted to impress my friend, one of his teachers, with a new recipe.

Aidan had a great first day and night at camp. My husband received a text saying he was “definitely” having an awesome time. He spent the evening texting friends. The next morning, July 1, while on the practice field, Aidan suffered a massive brain hemorrhage caused by an undiagnosed AVM. He had always been a healthy, active boy and was rarely ill.

Aidan was resuscitated on the field, and he was taken by med flight from a local hospital to a critical care hospital. By early afternoon, we learned that Aidan, at the age of 12, would not survive. When they first asked us to consider donation, before my husband or I could even open our mouths, it was Aidan’s older brother and sister that said we were going to do it.

Our family has been touched by donation before. My husband is a living organ donor and Aidan had written about how much he wanted to help someone like his dad someday. We knew that Aidan would want to help whomever he could. On July 2, 2014, my blue-eyed boy left us to become a hero.

Aidan touched many lives. As a very tall 12 1/2 year old, Aidan’s organs were able to go to people with a wide range of ages. His recipients ranged from teenagers to people in their 40s. We also donated AJ’s corneas. Generous friends and family honored our wishes to support New England Organ Bank.

We continue to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we have received by our friends, community, schools, New England Organ Bank, the hospital and people we have never met. Aidan is missed by many friends who continue to honor his memory and share their stories with us.

Although there is not a moment that goes by that we don’t wish that Aidan was here with us, we find comfort in the fact that he was able to help others to begin to live life fully again. Aidan was generous with his time, held his hand out to those that needed it, laughed loud, fought hard and loved with a love that still surrounds us today.

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Did you notice that delicious looking pizza Aidan was making? How about that crust edge? I don’t have his recipe, but his mom remembers it to be a combination of grilled duck breast, a maple bourbon BBQ sauce, smoked gouda and another cheese (I am guessing fontina) plus shallots and cranberries. At 13 he sure knew his way around a kitchen and a pizza.

Thick crust or thin here is the best recipe for pizza dough. It requires “00” or Italian style flour. This kind of flour is finely ground with less protein than the basic all-purpose flour. It creates the most supple and easy to shape dough. The crust bakes up light and airy and most importantly crispy. It has enough structure to hold all of Aidan’s abundant toppings, too.

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Pizza Dough

1-teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon sugar

1 ¼ cups hot water

½ bag (1 kg) “00” flour (4 ½ to 5 cups)

1 packet yeast

drizzle of olive oil

Dissolve salt and sugar in hot water. Place flour in large bowl, forming a well in center. Pour hot water into well. Pour yeast into water. Mix with a fork, dissolving yeast into the water. Slowly incorporate the flour. Get your hands in there and need the dough for 5 minutes or until smooth. Lightly oil a bowl and turn dough into it. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 1 hour. Punch dough down; divide and shape into 4 smooth balls. The dough is ready for crust making now or can be individually wrapped in plastic to ferment in the refrigerator for up to 36 hours. Shape, top and bake at highest temperature the oven can muster. I do mine on a lightly oiled perforated pan at 550F.

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It’s All Golden

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Golden Milk Bread

Following my emotional visit to CT two weeks ago I went into full on kitchen therapy Inspired by what was in the garden I made jams, pickles, everything tomato, everything zucchini, breads and cakes. It was all golden.

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Golden Tomato Jam and Dill Pickles

As it often does, grief relief finally came in a vivid dream.  In my slumber I am walking up the driveway to retrieve the morning mail. Waiting at the box, in the golden sun-light, is William. I say, “What are you doing here?” He replies, “I just want to make sure you know I am still here.” Whoosh! I am sure a psychiatrist would have a fun-filled day with my brain, but these dreams are so much better than any happy pills one could prescribe.

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Golden Dreams

I will be missing in action from time to time over the next few months. First and foremost I am super busy having too much fun with these two. Oh, the miracle of life! I did not know my heart could get any bigger, but there certainly is a new chamber filled with love and awe. Besides, Annabelle loves hanging out in my kitchen. Imagine that! I am pretty sure she loves the smell of fresh baked cookies and garlic.

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Golden Days

Second, the test kitchen has officially opened for preparation for the World Food Championships which takes place in November. Once again I am competing in the sandwich category and being sponsored by the fabulous Saucy Mama. Suzy Barhyte is the creative mind behind the delicious sauces, dressings and mustards that I will be incorporating into my sandwiches. Like Suzy’s my recipes must be family approved. I am especially grateful to have Caitlin assist me in sandwich development. She has an incredible palate. The Cubano has been built and now on to my signature dish. Hopefully I do myself, my family and Saucy Mama proud in the competition.

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Golden Mustards

With my game face on I won’t be blogging as much. To keep you occupied I challenge your creativity in the kitchen with this fantastic baking opportunity. The National Festival of Breads is one of the best bake-offs I have ever been privileged to win. Not only will you bake with the best products on the market, but you will learn so much about the wheat industry and the farmers who feed us and the world. Support them. Be inspired by those you love and bake some bread.

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Golden Wheat

The National Festival of Breads is included in the list of best cooking competitions by Delish! Online entries accepted Oct. 1, 2016 – Jan.16, 2017. National competition in Manhattan, Kansas, on June 17, 2017. Amazing recipes, finalists and baking contest for youth and adults! Go to www.nationalfestivalofbreads.com for rules and prizes. Sponsored by King Arthur Flour Red Star Yeast & Kansas Wheat.

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Golden Milk Bread

4¼ cups (18 oz./510 gm) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour

1 (1/4 oz/21 gm) package Red Star Platinum Yeast

1¼-cups milk

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons real maple syrup

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

4 (25 cent size) pieces of fresh peeled ginger

1-teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ cup golden raisins

In stand mixer bowl, fitted with paddle, combine 4 cups of flour and yeast. In small saucepan, over medium low heat, combine milk, butter, maple syrup, salt, fresh ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and pepper; bring just to a simmer, stirring. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes or until milk mixture registers 120F on an instant read thermometer. Pour milk mixture into flour mixture; mix on low speed until flour is fully incorporated. Remove paddle and replace with dough hook. Knead dough on low speed for 5 to 6 minutes adding additional ¼ cup flour if it seems too sticky. Add raisins to dough during last 2 minutes of kneading time. Transfer dough to a buttered bowl, cover and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Press down dough, divide in half and shape each piece to fit a lightly greased 9-inch loaf pan. Place dough in pans; cover and let rise for 1 hour. Heat oven 400F. Make 3 slash marks diagonally across each loaf. Bake loaves for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and internal temperature registers 200F on an instant read thermometer. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool.

 

Tomato-Tomato-Tomato

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It occurs to me that I have yet to share much of my 2016 garden with you. If you follow @goodgriefcook on instagram then you have gotten some snippets. I love instagram. It is such a happy place with the best photography of people, places and food. Right now home-grown tomatoes are trending.

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home-grown tomatoes with red onion jam

Back to my garden. It has been the most bountiful, yet. Each year seems to be better and better. It helps to rotate crops and purchase plants and seeds from reputable places. The last two years I have been a huge fan of the Burpee company because every single seed and plant purchased from them seem to flourish in my little plot of heaven. More good news is that I haven’t needed to use any herbicides or pesticides on my plants. It seems hungry birds make a meal of most of the bugs. We encourage birds to hang around in our yard by providing  suet in the winter and a few nesting boxes scattered around the garden area.

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One thing I really do need to learn is how to properly plant a variety of plants and seeds that don’t ripen all at once. Feast or famine? Right now we are feasting on tomatoes including two varieties (salsa and yellow pear) that self seeded from last year. I love those surprise plants and all the others that inspired today’s recipes.

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Toasted Fennel Tomato Jam is one of my all-time favorite recipes. I featured it around this time last year as inspired by my son’s love for the caprese salad. If you really want to add some life to your favorite Italian mozzarella or burrata make the jam.  Happily, I used up a 4 pound mix of tomatoes in this batch and it is as good as ever.

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My latest original recipe is a Tomato Bread made with tomato juice and a mix of soy and bread flour. Back when I attended the National Festival of Breads I was gifted a bag of Bob’s Red Mill soy flour, so I thought I might give it a try. The bread makes a great sandwich with a mild tomato taste and slight sweetness from molasses.

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photo by Caitlin Keys Pemberton

Finally, and at at the suggestion of my daughter, together we whipped up this tomato pie recipe from Epicurious.com. We used gruyere cheese instead of cheddar and filled it with  sweet heirloom cherry tomatoes and a smaller Brandywine variety. From the crisp buttery crust to the spicy cheese topping this tomato pie is a tasty one. It’s perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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Hope you enjoyed this glimpse of gardening from my neck of the woods. You say tomato and I say delicious especially if it is home-grown.

Tomato Bread

1 (1/4 oz.) package Red Star Active Dry Yeast

1 ¾ cups tomato juice, warmed to about 115F.

1-tablespoon molasses

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon dried basil

1-tablespoon olive oil

1-cup Bob’s Red Mill soy flour

3 ½ to 4 cups King Arthur Flour bread flour

Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. In large bowl of stand mixer, fitted with paddle attachment, sprinkle yeast over warm tomato juice; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in molasses, salt, basil, oil and soy flour. Slowly add bread flour until it comes together and pulls away from sides of the bowl. Switch to dough hook attachment. Knead dough on speed level 2 for 5 to 7 minutes. Shape the dough and place in prepared loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place, about 90 minutes, or until it rises ½-inch above the rim of the pan. Preheat oven to 325F. Slash top of bread, if desired. Bake bread for 50 to 60 minutes or until instant read thermometer inserted in center registers 200-205F. Turn out on cooling rack and cool completely.

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By the way, I have not been compensated in any way by any of the companies that I have mentioned here. As always I am just sharing my favorite quality products with you. It’s like a good neighbor who suggests her favorite restaurant or a tomato plant variety to try.