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.)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Freezer Meal Short Cuts

My mother is a wonderful cook. When I was growing up she made sure we had well-balanced breakfasts, yummy sack lunches and homemade dinners. None of which my sisters or I fully appreciated at the time. 

Also, my mom made everything from scratch. Everything. Like, her own maple syrup. Or fresh pizza dough. On snowy days she made hot cocoa with actual cocoa powder, sugar and milk, topped with homemade whipped cream. And her ungrateful children had the audacity to ask, "Next time can we have Swiss Miss and Cool Whip like Jessica's mom makes?"

In fact, when I left home and started buying my own groceries, the supermarket became an undiscovered world of pre-packaged goods I never knew existed. can buy cookie dough in a package? Instant mashed potatoes in a box?? WHAT SORCERY IS THIS???

It actually felt a little bit like cheating to buy things like minute rice or frozen waffles. Most college kids hide the alcohol when their moms come to visit. I hid the canned soups.

Naturally, you will understand my state of shock when my mother revealed to me her secret behind the most amazing teriyaki sauce I have ever put into my mouth. Ever. (and I've eaten quite a lot of Chinese food)

She showed me this:


Is that a marinade...from a jar??

It was. It is. And it's amazing.

It's Soy Vay Island Teriyaki. It's certified kosher, preservative-free and you can find it at most grocery stores, Target and Wal-Mart. It's a wonderful marinade (love it with shrimp!) or a stir-fry sauce with vegetables or a dressing for an Asian-inspired pasta salad.

It's hard to beat homemade, but sometimes even my mother finds a product she wouldn't mind passing off as her own. There are a lot of great marinades out there and if they save me time in the kitchen, all the more reason to stock up.

Now when it comes to freezer meal cooking, store bought marinades are probably not the first thing you picture, but here's the thing. When I buy meat, I usually buy in bulk, whether it's at a club store or because it's on sale. We obviously can't eat it all in a week, so some of it has to go in the freezer. And for me, stuffing my freezer full of raw meat is the KISS OF DEATH. I might as well throw it in the trash because when dinnertime is approaching and I open the freezer and see nothing but raw chicken, I FREAK OUT, SHUT THE DOOR AND ORDER PIZZA.

BUT. If the meat is already prepped, even if it's only in a marinade, I don't have to do any other thinking. I simply pat myself on the back for dreaming up such a simple, delicious meal three weeks prior, then take it out to thaw and gather whatever else I need. 


This gets complicated so pay attention. (1) Put your meat of choice in a ziptop bag (boneless, skinless chicken thighs in my case). (2) Pour the marinade on top (only about 1/3 of the bottle, depending on the amount of meat). (3) Freeze. 

Phew. Now wipe your brow. 


If you've never cooked with b/s chicken thighs before, GET SOME ON YOUR NEXT GROCERY RUN, PRONTO. They are more flavorful than chicken breasts, they cook more quickly and they stay juicy. 

My favorite way to prepare them is on the grill, only 5 minutes per side. You can also bake them in a shallow dish at 425ºF for 15-20 minutes. 

My children prefer the baked thighs because they don't have the "yucky parts." Also known as "grill marks".

My mom approves. What else can I say?

Here are some of my other absolute favorite store-bought marinades:
Bronco Bob's Tangy Apricot Chipotle Sauce
It's sweet, it's spicy, it's my favorite way to grill up pork chops!

Stubb's Chicken Marinade pairs perfectly with, well, chicken!
Also try it on grilled veggies.

Original Thomas Sauce is an amazing marinade for steaks, especially kabobs.

McCormick Grill Mates come in a variety of flavors and can be used on anything - seafood, poultry, meat or veggies!
The McCormick website has a ton of recipes as well.

How about you? What store-bought "secret ingredients" are you hiding up your sleeve?

Check out more Freezer Meal recipes here!

Monday, May 12, 2014

30 Signs You're In Your 30s

Two years ago, I turned 30. To commemorate the occasion, some friends and I came up with this list. I'm turning 32 this week and two years in, I'd have to say that it just might be my favorite decade so far.

To all my friends (and sister!) turning 30 this year-- there really is life after 29!

You probably never became a famous pop-star/astronaut/children's book author and you still haven't met Mario Lopez, but the fact that "Full House" is still on TV gives you a strange sense of peace. You may be getting older, but Uncle Jesse lives on in TV Land immortality.

You realize you are no longer as cool as you once were, but you know what? You don't really care.

And that's the beauty of 30. You don't stress as much about the things that aren't important and you focus more on the things that really matter.

Like posting silly lists to the internet on your birthday.

30 Signs You're In Your 30s

1. You stop pretending that grey hair you found was just a fluke.

2. It makes your back hurt to even think about sleeping anywhere but your own bed. A friend's couch? No thanks. A hostel? Never again. Camping? SHUT YOUR MOUTH.

3. Your bathing suit is from Land’s End.

4. You realize your life is not nearly as much like "Friends" as you thought it would be. You realize HOLY COW THAT SHOW ENDED 10 YEARS AGO. Could I BE any older??
The "Friends" in their 30s

Me in my 30s
5. You totally feel like you could pass for 23...until you hang out with someone who is ACTUALLY 23.

6. The other day someone called you “ma’am.” And you liked it. Yeah, ya did.

7. Being up at 2am is NOT fun anymore.

8. You know those people on planes with the annoying screaming children? That's you now.

9. Getting carded is AWESOME.

10. You're appalled at skimpy clothes on teenage girls. I mean, we NEVER wore anything inappropriate when we were that age, amiright??

11. You get excited when a recipe includes the “Weight Watchers Points.”

12. You have fully embraced the gloriousness that is the mini-van. 
I mean, just look how much junk we can stuff in here!!
13. You find yourself saying the phrase, “Oooo, I have a coupon for that!”

14. You come to the depressing realization that you are too old to compete for Miss America, win American Idol or even be on the Bachelor. So long, dreams.

15. Your purse is 10 times bigger than it was 10 years ago.

16. You prefer HGTV to MTV.

17. Music from the 90s holds a special place in your heart.

Baby, hit me one more time, but don't go chasing waterfalls.
Universal truths.
18. You have a board on Pinterest dedicated to household chores.

19. A “muffin top” is no longer just a baked good.

20. You go to the farmer’s market….for fun!

21. You read the news….on purpose! Wait, Facebook counts as the news, right?

22. You go to more kids' parties than adult parties. 

23. When you do go to fancy grown-up parties, you have conversations about potty training. And one about CoolSculpting fat removal. True story.

24. You discover that your camera is totally broken – all of a sudden these little lines are appearing around your eyes in all your photos!

25. You’re still hanging on to some pieces of clothing from high school for when you finally lose those extra few pounds.

26. You realize that even if you could fit back into your old clothes, they are not in style anymore. 
Maybe sweater vests and overalls are not in style anymore,
but I should definitely start posing on banisters with my friends again.
27. You feel your technology savvy slowly slipping away. Seriously, can someone please explain the iCloud to me? Maybe a 12-year-old?

28. You occasionally offer up prayers of thanks that smartphones did not exist when you were a teenager.

29. You don’t have to ask your parents’ permission to go out anymore – but you do have to ask them to babysit.

30. You're just glad you're not 40 yet.

32, here I come!
And there's nowhere else I'd rather be. 

What else would you add to the list?

*Embrace life's little messes by following along on my new Facebook page :)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Perfect Sugar Cookie...and my new favorite way to decorate them!

(Scroll down for recipe)

My kids love to bake cookies. And they LOVE to decorate them.

I love to bake cookies. And I DO NOT LOVE my kids to decorate them.

See, I have this little problem. It's called I WANT MY COOKIES TO LOOK GOOD. I hope for my cookies to look like they came from a professional bakery, while my children prefer them to resemble multi-colored blobs with tiny bites missing. I've tried to explain to them that snowflakes are not purple and that the Santa cookie will not be able to see anything with an entire bottle of nonpareils dumped on his face, but they don't seem to care.

I've tried to let it go because they have so much fun flinging icing all over the kitchen, but every time I watch them mix all the different colored sprinkles together in one bowl (which is always their go-to strategy), a small piece of me dies inside. This is something I'm working through.

So this past Easter I tried a new approach.

And I may never buy sprinkles again.

We had some family over for Easter. Jack and I made and iced the cookies ahead of time, so before lunch, I set out the cookies with a collection of FoodWriter edible color markers (purchased at Michael's). These markers are phenomenal. They are like if regular markers and a magical unicorn had a baby, and that baby could write on food. Note to self: come up with better analogy before posting

The packaging claimed they could also write on toast or cheese. At first I was like, "Why would you want to write on cheese?" And then I thought, "Why WOULDN'T you want to write on cheese!!" FOOD and ART. My TWO FAVORITE THINGS!

 While lunch finished cooking, the kids busied themselves with decorating the cookies. There was no mess and no soul-crushing sprinkle mixing, although Henry did manage to bite off a pair of bunny ears.

They were SO excited to be helping with the meal and they proudly showed off their masterpieces to anyone who wandered through the kitchen.

It kind of warmed my cold, perfectionist heart.

Ahh, a bunny that is the color of an actual bunny. This girl gets me.
How stinkin' adorable are these cookies??
My only note: Make sure the icing is completely hardened before coloring on the cookies to avoid "bleeding"
(scroll down for recipe)

 After lunch the kids got to eat their creations.

And they were delicious!

Ok, so maybe we'll give sprinkles another go after all.


Here is the sugar cookie recipe I use. It's my mom's recipe that she has tweaked over the years and it really is perfect.

Start with 2 sticks SOFTENED butter. Do not try to microwave the butter, just let it sit out at room temperature for an hour or so.
Add the rest of the "wet" ingredients: sugar, egg, vanilla, orange juice. Blend together.
Note: The assistance of a superhero is not required.

Now add the flour and a pinch of salt.

Blend again and you're done!

I like to wrap my dough in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

When you're ready to bake, cut off a slice of dough and roll out on a floured surface.
Remember: the dough should be COLD and rolled THICK! After you cut out the first round of cookies, you can re-roll your slice of dough one or two more times, but the more you manipulate the dough, the harder it is to work with and the more finicky it becomes in the oven.

I was able to get 16 cookies out of this batch of dough.

Bake your cookies at 400 degrees for only 5 to 6 minutes. AS SOON as they start to turn brown on the edges, TAKE THEM OUT!

Now for the icing! Mix all ingredients together (powdered sugar, milk, lemon juice, light corn syrup) until the icing is the consistency of shampoo. The lemon juice cuts through the sweetness and gives the icing a delicious hint of tart. If you prefer not to use lemon juice, you can substitute extra milk instead.

The icing spreads beautifully on the cookie.
Also, do you know how hard it is to take a picture of yourself spreading icing on a cookie??
I had to get creative with this one.
Confession: Sometimes I get lazy and just dunk the whole cookie in the bowl of icing. I find it a lot easier to spread that way. 
Now you are ready to decorate!! (sprinkles optional, of course)

Perfect Sugar Cookies
I can usually make 15-20 cookies per batch of dough, however, it varies depending on the size of the cutter.

Blend Together:
1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp orange juice

2 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
pinch of salt

Blend wet and dry ingredients together.

I like to roll the dough into a ball and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with flour. Sprinkle top of dough with flour and roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick (I use the width of my pinky as a guide, but if you have giant pinkies, that might not work for you. When it doubt, err on the side of thickness!) You may need to flip the dough around to roll it out. While rolling, check underneath the dough frequently to make sure it is not sticking (if it is, sprinkle with more flour). Cut into desired shape and place on a COOL baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until cookies are set and barely brown on edges, about 5 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE!

NOTE: In order for the cookies to keep their shape, the dough needs to be COLD. If you overwork the dough it will become too soft and the cookies will not hold their shape. You can even place your cut-out cookies on a plate or cookie sheet and pop the whole thing in the freezer for a few minutes to guarantee a perfect shape after baking!

Perfect Icing

Mix Together:
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp light corn syrup

The icing should be the same consistency as shampoo: thick, but still a little runny. If the icing is too thick, you can add more milk. If it is too runny, add a little more powdered sugar.

Add food coloring to tint the icing! Let cookies sit overnight to let the icing harden. 

A few other ways I've used this recipe:
Martha Stewart's Fireworks Cookies
Icing and sprinkles for a "MOPS" event
Christmas cookies, of course!