Monday, July 14, 2014

Flank Steak, 2 Ways {Freezer Meal}

We are a meat and potatoes kind of family.

I would like to write that we are a vegetarian, kale-loving, green smoothie-drinking, salad with no dressing-eating kind of family. It sounds so fresh and healthy. But it's not true. We love meat.

My kids, myself and my husband, especially my husband, all love a good steak. There is nothing better than a thick, juicy, perfectly cooked cut of beef. However, it's also one of those dishes that is reserved for special occasions, or at least a relaxing Sunday night. 

But sometimes we cheat. Sometimes we throw a steak on the grill on a Tuesday. This is our weeknight steak.

Flank steak is a lean, somewhat tough (i.e. less expensive) but flavorful cut of beef that benefits from the tenderizing effects of a marinade. My favorite marinades are a southwest-style marinade and a sweet teriyaki-style marinade. I've included my recipes for both below, hence Flank Steak 2 Ways! 

I like to buy flank steak 2 or 3 to a package at Costco, marinate them in a ziptop bag and throw them in the freezer for a great steak any night of the week!

When flank steak is marinated, cooked quickly at high heat, and thinly sliced, it practically melts in your mouth. This recipe calls for grilling the steak, but if you don’t have a grill, you can prepare the steak on a large cast iron frying pan.

Southwest Flank Steak is smokey and slightly spicy with a touch of sweetness. Chili powder and cumin give it that distinct southwest flavor.

Grill the steak for about 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare.

Serve with grilled vegetables in an attempt to be more healthy.

Slice the steak in thin strips against the grain.

The Asian Flank Steak is prepared the exact same way.

I like to live out my vegetarian fantasy by placing my beef atop a mountain of greens and colorful vegetables, much to the dismay of my carnivorous family.

Serves 4-6

Mix the following marinade and pour over a 1.5-2 lb. flank steak. Freeze in a Ziploc bag.
-1/3 cup olive oil
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
-1/3 cup soy sauce
-1/4 cup honey
-1 tsp cumin
-1 tsp chili powder
-1 tsp thyme
-1/2 tsp paprika
-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Serves 4-6

Mix the following marinade and pour over a 1.5-2 lb. flank steak. Freeze in a Ziploc bag.

-¼ cup brown sugar
-1 tsp garlic
-1 tsp ginger
-½ cup soy sauce
-1 Tbsp sesame oil
-1 tsp red pepper flakes

Thaw steak completely before grilling. Grill about 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare steak. The extra marinade can be brought to a boil, then simmered in a small saucepan. It can be used to drizzle on top of the grilled flank steak.

Flank steak is best eaten medium rare; well done will make it too tough. When the steak has cooked to your preferred level of doneness, remove from the grill and place on a cutting board. Cover with aluminum foil to hold in the heat and to keep the steak from drying out, and let rest for 10 minutes. Thinly slice the steak against the grain. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Milestone You Hope For, But Don't Admit

'Flower', 'hotdog' and 'swing' are a few of the most recent words Elise has added to her rapidly expanding vocabulary. At 15 months old she can say well over 50 words which is far more than her brothers were speaking at this age. Henry, in particular, had about 5 words by 15 months and some of those were made up. At 2 and a half he is now speaking perfectly fine, which just goes to show that they all catch up eventually.

One milestone Elise has not yet mastered is WALKING. She was slow to crawl, so I'm not at all surprised that she is not toddling around the house yet. It's just that my arms are getting really tired. Also, it's summer now and the cement is hot and the playground is mulchy, so whenever we go outside she is not inclined to crawl around on surfaces that cause discomfort to her knees. Instead, she prefers for me to indulge her every whim and cart her around like her personal walking chauffeur.
Elise not walking outside.

Elise not walking at the park.

"Fow-a!" she yells, and I haul her over to smell the flowers. 

"Swing!" she demands, and we trot over to the playset.

"Ball!" she points across the yard and I say, "Let's just stay here and swing for a little bit."

"No! Nnnoooooo! Ball! BALL! BAAAAAALLLL!!!"

I am ready for her to walk.

Occasionally I try standing her up, stepping back and reaching out my arms. "Come on, Elise! Can you walk to Mama?"

"No." she states matter of factly. 

Sometimes I show her videos of her peers walking. My friend's 10-month-old recently took off and is practically jogging around his house.

"Look at this baby walking, Elise!"

"Walk-y, walk-y, walk-y" she chants in a sing-song voice. 

"Yes, he is only 10 MONTHS OLD! You've got 5 months on him! It's kind of embarrassing, really. Don't you want to walk like the baby?"

Elise at the strawberry farm.
Not walking.
Instead, she made Grammie cart her around.
"Now take me to that strawberry."
"And feed it to me."

At least her refusal to walk has benefited her communication skills.

Another word she has recently mastered is 'Elmo,' or as she calls him, 'Melmo'. In fact, this post is about how Elmo himself helped my baby achieve her latest milestone.

The funny thing is, she has never actually seen an episode of "Sesame Street," because I am vehemently opposed to toddlers watching television.

JUST KIDDING. No, it's because her brothers hog the TV and she has never expressed interest in watching cartoons about mutated turtles.

Her only Elmo exposure has come from books and hand-me-down toys and still, SHE LOVES MELMO.

I'm not sure what kind of muppet voodoo Jim Henson did to create the ultimate toddler celebrity, but they are all crazy about that little monster. I can only assume that Elmo is the toddler equivalent of Will Ferrell. Think about it: everybody loves Will Ferrell for reasons that can't be explained, he is rather furry too and the more you watch his movies, the funnier they get. I think toy manufacturers need to create an Elmo doll that says all Will Ferrell's catchphrases like Elmo needs more cowbell! and You're Elmo's boy, Blue! I would totally buy it. Yeah, you would too. See what I mean?

Anyway, Elise's favorite Elmo toy is a moving, talking doll passed down from cousins to my oldest when he was little. Basically, it's been through 4 children before her. It used to dance and stand on one foot and tell all sorts little stories and jokes. Unfortunately, one day my 2-year-old decided to use Elmo as a weapon and hurl him down the stairs at the 4-year-old. Jack ducked out of the way just in time, but poor Elmo smashed on the hardwood floor and broke his leg. Now, when his switch is flipped on, he immediately collapses to the floor and exclaims Uh oh, Elmo fell down! Can you help Elmo up, please? And since he will never be able to stand again, that is the only phrase he says.

Uh oh, Elmo fell down! Can you help Elmo up, please? Uh oh, Elmo fell down! Can you help Elmo up, please?

And STILL Elise loves Melmo.

She crawls around the house, dragging him behind her. Uh oh, Elmo fell down! Can you help Elmo up, please?

"Uh oh," she repeats.

So today I had a brilliant idea. I used Elmo to help my daughter achieve a major milestone. No, it was not walking. It is the one milestone that mothers secretly hope for but never admit.

Today, while Elise was busy not walking, I dug out an old Elmo DVD and popped it in.

She paused. She looked at the screen. She pointed. "Melmo. Melmo. Melmo! MELMO! MEEEELMO!"

And there she sat for the next 20 minutes thoroughly engrossed Elmo's World.

And I cleaned the kitchen without anyone trying to "help" me unload the dishwasher.

Elise may not be walking yet, but PRAISE THE LORD she is watching TV!

So if you'll excuse me, Elmo is doing a riveting impression of a horse right now, which means I have 20 minutes to go SHOWER IN PEACE for the first time in 15 months!

I'll take it.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Childhood Revisited

"You guys didn't really take many family vacations when you were growing up, did you?" my husband asked me once, several years ago, while we were flipping through old photo albums.

I had never really thought about it before, but he was right. We went to the beach a couple of times, but never anything beyond that. There were no trips to Disney or educational forays to Williamsburg or long treks across state parks.

It's not that we couldn't afford it, although I'm sure money was tight in my parents' early marriage. My father was still in college when I was born, after all.

"We didn't need vacation," I answered, matter of factly, "We had my grandparents' house."

My grandparents live in a small town in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. To my sisters and me, it was our own little slice of heaven. It wasn't the tiny Appalachian town itself that was so enthralling, although the occasional trip to the Wal-Mart was always exciting (note: in small towns the mega-store is not referred to as simply "Wal-Mart." It is always THE Wal-Mart). No, it was my grandparents that made our visits so special.

From the minute my parents dropped us off up until our goodbyes, we knew that our grandparents had carved out this week just for us. The kitchen was stocked with our favorite foods and the days were blank canvases waiting to be filled with romps in the creek, tire-swinging, raspberry-picking or firefly-catching.

One of our favorite pastimes was dressing up in my grandmother's old gowns from the 50s and 60s. We'd spend an hour selecting the perfect combination of dress, wig, gloves and jewelry. The final accessory was always a couple of pairs of Grandpa's tube socks, balled up and stuffed down the front of the bodice to give an air of authenticity to the ensamble. Mamma, as we call her, was delighted to see us parading around the house in her vintage sequined top or a glamorous cocktail dress. Over the years, even her wedding gown became tattered and kool-aid stained after countless hours of dress-up. "Now tell me, how many wedding dresses have been this well-loved?" she would laugh.

My grandpa always had a surprise or two in store for us. Once he brought home an enormous refrigerator box from the local appliance store. We quickly fashioned it into a house, made Grandpa sit inside and fed him sandwiches through the tiny window. Another time he and I trapped a perfect little white bunny in the yard using the old carrot-under-the-box-propped-up-by-a-stick trick. Years later I learned that Grandpa actually got the rabbit from a pet store and stuck it under the box while I was asleep.
I think I named her Buttercup.
When I visit now, I'm taken aback at how quickly I'm transported to my childhood. The summer air still smells of honeysuckle and everything that's familiar. A small piece of me lives forever in those hills, along with the memories ofl Mamma's contagious laugh and Grandpa's late-night tales of the frightful Gohumpy that lives just up the holler.

When I first got married, I wanted to share this part of my past with my husband. And he's been to the house and he loves my grandparents too. But there are some things you just can't impart with words and grown-up visits.

This week my oldest is having a vacation of his own in the Kentucky mountains. This is the 3rd summer he has taken a solo trip to Mamma & Grandpa's house. 

My grandparents have been texting me photos  of his time with them. (yes, TEXTING. They're hip like that.)

He is swinging...

...roasting marshmallows...

...eating his favorite foods...

...dressing up (after a quick trip to the Wal-Mart)...

...and enjoying his own slice of Appalachian heaven.
I see his face and I recognize that joy. And I am blessed knowing that a piece of me and a piece of him are intertwined in those same hills.

We share the same love for the same two people in the exact same way.

We are sharing a slice of childhood.

And it sure is delicious.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

For Father's Day

He wakes up before me. I can hear him downstairs, the plates clink and the silverware rattles as he unloads the dishwasher. I hear the thumps and the bumps and the giggles, because the 4-year-old is up with him. The 4-year-old always wants to be wherever his daddy is.

He brews the coffee and sweeps up last night's crumbs and takes out the garbage. Just the little things that mean everything to get the day going smoothly.

Somehow, a stripey tie just doesn't seem enough.

He works long days, long hours. He returns home to tiny children who have been impatiently waiting for his car to pull up. They greet him with cheers and questions and kisses, as if his homecoming is the highlight of their day.

And why wouldn't it be?
This is Daddy who pitches the ball and pushes the swing and plays the bad guy every time.
This is Daddy who is always up for ice cream outings and late-night movies.
This is Daddy who gives bear hugs and tickles and sneaks them potato chips after Mommy says no.

Somehow, a grill set just doesn't cut it.

He's always there with a band-aid, or a screwdriver, or a consoling hug, whenever something needs mending.

He handles the spiders, the sibling spats and even the occasional poopy diaper.

He's a coach and a cheerleader. He's a solid rock and soft place to snuggle.

He prays for us and gives for us and lives for us.

Somehow, a coffee mug falls a little short.

There is nothing we can wrap in shiny paper and a big bow to adequately express our gratefulness for you.

So the kids are scribbling some little pictures and I am writing these words. We can never give you a gift to match the one that you have given us.

All we can do is say THANK YOU.

And Happy Father's Day.

(Don't worry. We got you something to unwrap too. ;) 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Best Way to Read With Your Child

I don't pretend to be a literacy expert, but I was a 3rd grade teacher in my previous life. One of the very best reading strategies we used with our students was an acronym called CROP-QV. I have found that this approach to reading works very well with my small children, particularly my 4-year-old, and it is even helpful with my 2-year-old.

CROP-QV is an acronym for 6 different reading strategies that help students stay engaged with text while reading and support their comprehension. Each letter in CROP-QV stands for a particular reading strategy. For example, the C is for Connections. When our students read, we encourage them to make connections to the text. Is there a scene in this book that reminds you of something that happened in your own life? Does this book remind you of another book you've read?

A lot of the time, when my children hand me a book, I find myself reading TO them. I read straight through distracted by thoughts of what I can thaw out for dinner until I shut the book and they scream "AGAIN!" Some of their favorite books I even have memorized so occasionally I find myself "reading" with the book in one hand while scrolling through my phone with the other. (No I don't.) (Yes I do.)

While I suppose even my distracted, monotone 500th reading of Tikki Tikki Tembo is beneficial, rather than reading TO my children, I have been making more of an effort to read WITH my children. When you model engaged reading, you are teaching your child to think critically about the story. You are showing them that their thoughts and opinions matter. It's even kinda fun for the mom.

Critical thinking is an imperative skill they will use all through their school career. With any luck, they may even use these skills after they graduate. For example, if one day your child reads an article online titled "Taco Bell Warns Employees Against Directly Exposing Skin to Food," they will hopefully have the critical thinking skills to decipher that however probable the topic, this article is actually satire. No one wants their child to grow up to be one of those people who think The Onion is an actual news publication. 

Therefore, it is important to model critical thinking skills when you read with your kids. (Except, of course at bedtime. If you're like me, at bedtime I use the strategy RTDBAFAPAGO or Read The Book As Fast As Possible And GET OUT. Perhaps I should have titled this post "The Best Way To Read With Your Child While You Are Fully Awake, Happy and Not Beaten Down By the Day.")

So the next time your child crawls into your lap with a book (and it is not bedtime), here are some examples of how to use the CROP-QV strategies.

These stragies work best with chapter books and longer picture books, but they can definitely be adapted to books for preschoolers. One of our favorite books is The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle.

Even before we begin to read, we can engage with the story by looking at the cover.

Why do you think this book is called The Very Busy Spider? (Prediction) What do you know about spiders? (Connection)

As you read, pause to help your child think about what is happening in the story.

I wonder why the spider doesn't want to go play with the other animals. Is there anything you are wondering about? (Question)

All the animals in this book live on the farm. Do you remember when we went to a farm? (Connection) What other things do you see on a farm? What kind of sounds do you hear on a farm? (Visualization)

What is your favorite animal in this book? Why? (Opinion)

And, of course, kids love discussing the book when it is finished.

How did it make you feel when the spider caught the fly? (Reaction)

Did you like the story? Why or why not? (Opinion)

So give these strategies a try and watch your child become engrossed in literacy on a whole new level. Just see if it doesn't bond the two of you and make reading even more fun and enjoyable. You are inspiring a learner for life! (I'm writing these words to myself right now because here comes Jack with Tikki Tikki Tembo and I think if I have to say that infuriatingly long name one more time I just might throw myself into a well. <deep breath>)

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lake Winnepesaukah

If your travels ever happen to take you down I-75, somewhere along the Tennessee/Georgia line, there is a tiny American gem hidden right off of exit 1. It is an amusement park, Lake Winnepesaukah, surrounding a small lake and nestled among the trees.

It is big enough to entertain all ages, but small enough that you could hit all the attractions in one day if you so desired.

My favorite feature of Lake Winnie, as the locals call it, is it's adorably vintage feel, as it was built in 1925 by a couple whose granddaughter still runs the park today. Lake Winnie is complete with a majestic carousel built in 1916, lots of vintage kiddie rides, antique band organs serenading the park and an old wooden roller coaster. Of course, you could not pay me money to ride a rickety old roller coaster, but I do enjoy staring nostalgically at them.

There is also a small building at the end of the boardwalk that houses old photos and memorabilia from Lake Winnie's past. When I saw this picture from 1939, my love for Lake Winnie was cemented for all eternity.
"To Paul Jones - a swell fellow in a swell Park. Lake Winnepesaukah. 1939. Doc & Sonora Carver."
HOLY COW. YOU GUYS. THE REAL LIFE SONORA WEBSTER DID HER HORSE DIVING IN THIS VERY PARK. And, of course, the crowd never knew she was blind. Please tell me someone else out there spent 8,000 hours of their childhood watching Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken over and over again??

Of course, now I'm afraid I have built up your expectations too much and you will be disappointed unless you happen to also love charmingly-vintage amusement parks. Or you're an early 90s Disney movie buff (for my next post, I will be traveling to NYC and discussing Newsies.)

My sister, however, claims that Lake Winnie is smelly and creepy, and I will admit that the only thing I did not find charmingly vintage about Lake Winnie was the general public. I saw one lady wearing an actual bra and actual underwear in the waterpark. And that was one of the classier outfits.
Seriously, why can't people still dress like this at amusement parks??
Charmingly vintage or totally creepy?
You decide.
My four-year-old absolutely loved every minute, especially the waterpark. At 42 inches, he was just tall enough to do some of the "big rides" as well, including the "Oh-Zone!" - one of those rides that hoists you up 14 stories just to drop you straight down. I had a mini-heart attack at the top. Jack hopped off and said, "Wow, that made my bottom come right off the seat!"
The view from the top of the Oh-Zone AKA the place I almost died.
My two youngest were not quite as impressed with Lake Winnie. Elise went with the flow, as usual, but Henry only tolerated a few rides before announcing multiple times, "I WANT GO HOME!" Finally, we found something which completely thrilled them both....

the rental stroller.

Also good for naps.
My mom threw a towel over the top of the stroller and Henry and Elise were happy to play in their "tent" for the rest of the day.

Which left Jack and me free to ride to our hearts' content.

And we did. (Even though I failed to get photographic evidence.)
"Hey, Mom, can you take a picture of us in front of the lazy river?"
"Hey, Mom, can you get a picture of me with Jack on the parachutes?"

"Never mind, Mom, I'm going with a selfie!"
So if you're ever in the area, take a day trip to Lake Winnepesaukah.

And decide for yourself.

(Just know that the diving horses no longer perform. Sadly.)