Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Crock Pot BBQ Beef Tacos

Back in September, Drew and I went to a small town festival in Celina, Texas – the Celina Balloon Festival (as in hot air balloons, not the blow up birthday kind.) It was a HOT and sunny day accompanied, fortunately, by a brisk breeze. The wind prevented the hot air balloons from launching, which was a bit of a bummer, but the festival featured a classic car show, which was a lot of fun for me as a first timer, and wonderful for Drew who drooled over most of the cars. All good festivals are sure to feature tasty food and we were not disappointed! Searching for a food truck serving gluten free food is nearly impossible, so I got tacos, hold the shell and just give me the stuff that goes inside. Drew picked out barbeque brisket tacos that were delicious! I took a bite and thought aloud, “I bet I could make this.” Drew’s skeptical response was, “You can’t really do something like this without a smoker or grill.”

Oh, yeah? Really? GAME ON. Me and my crock pot got this.

Going back to my historian roots, I did a lot of research, read a lot of recipes, and came up with my own strategy for replicating the tacos.

The apartment was filled with the summery smell of smokey barbeque sauce, and like any slow cooker recipe, the hardest part of making this meal is waiting for it to be done!

In the end, Drew was very impressed with the results. Dare I say that we thought my version was even better than the tacos at the festival?

An arctic chill seems to have taken over most of the country, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the flavors of summer! In fact, this warm, tangy, melt-in-your-mouth meal might be just the comfort food you need to get you through this installment of the polar vortex.

Here is what you need:

A 2-4 pound hunk of meat – I like to look for a brisket, chuck roast, tri tip loin, etc. anything with a decent amount of fat will do. Brisket has given me the best "pulled" finish, whereas with the others, you have to cut them up into small cubes, which is still tasty!
½ cup bbq sauce – I have been using Stubbs Smokey Mesquite – choose your favorite!
½ cup apple cider vinegar
a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
one can of Coke – make sure it is REGULAR! The sugars in real Coke help tenderize the meal. The artificial chemical junk in Diet Coke just won’t work.
one onion, sliced
one clove minced garlic

Here is what you do:

Season the hunk o’ meat with salt and pepper (you could also sub Montreal Steak Seasoning in place of the salt and pepper). Place the meat into the crock pot with the fat side up if possible. Place the sliced onions on top. Mix all the liquid ingredients and minced garlic and pour the mixture over the meat. Cook on low for 6 hours. Wait. It will smell delicious and you will want to pick up the lid every five minutes, but be patient and wait. Get out of the house if you have to! After the 6 hours are up, take out the meat and onions and discard the cooking liquid. Shred the meat and put it back into the crock pot. Add in more bbq sauce and cook for one more hour. 

We like to serve this with broccoli slaw, sour cream, cheese, and corn taco tortillas, but it would be great with rice, on buns, or even on top of a green salad! It doesn’t really matter how you eat it, just eat it and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

An Ode to My Aunts

When I married my husband, I not only committed myself to the love of my life, I also became officially part of a large and still growing family. I now have five nieces and two nephews and there are more little ones on the way. On my wedding day my friends and family started calling me, “Mrs. Smith,” but some of the greatest joy came from hearing the littlest ones call me, “Aunt Angie.”

The Smith family is big, and only getting bigger!

I am honored to have become Uncle Drew’s wife, Aunt Angie. Newlyweds often stress out about getting along with their parents and siblings in-law, but I think it is even more significant to gain acceptance by nieces and nephews. Children possess an innocence that makes their perception and reception of adults honest and true. Every moment spent with one of my nieces or nephews easily becomes the cutest moment of my life. The things they say and do, their mannerisms, their smiles and giggles, and the things that make them unique individuals are little treasures that warm my soul; to earn their love is to have in my heart something more precious than all the gold in the world. I realize that in ten, twenty, thirty years, those little girls probably won’t recall that I spent a lot of time playing in their new tent with them over the weekend, but they will remember it when I see them again in a few weeks, and that is what matters the most. 

When I think about the kind of relationship I want to have with my nieces and nephews, I immediately see the faces of all of my own aunts. They have played with me, read to me, given me awesome cousins to grow up with, fed me the most delicious food, supported me, been role models, shared my excitement about good things and my concerns when I faced challenges. In my aunts I have a godmother, a confirmation sponsor, and a host of perpetual cheerleaders. They are all beautiful, inside and out, they aren't afraid to be goofy, and for my whole life they have made me feel special and loved. I distinctly recall many a sleepover when my cousins and I would request a bedtime story. Sometimes it was told by one aunt and sometimes it was a team effort, but the stories were always magical and intricate and as a child I had no idea how they could be so creative on the spot. I admired them and wanted to grow up to be like them. This past Sunday evening I was snuggling with my niece at bedtime, and as I looked at her I thought about my aunts and thought to myself, “If she asked for a story, I bet I could do it for her.” For me, that was a very special moment. 

It causes me to pause in awe that I am now charged with the same responsibilities and privileges of my aunts whom I have looked up to for so long, and I think it is a wonderful blessing.

And since I have an affinity for rhyme, I just couldn't help myself and I wrote a poem:

Ode to My Aunts

To all of my wonderful, sensational aunts,
with your beautiful hearts,
and warm, loving hands:

Thank you for all for being a good part of my life,
I think I appreciate you more
now that I'm a wife.

You traveled frequently and sometimes long distances
to be there for birthdays, baptisms,
Thanksgivings, and Christmases.

I always enjoyed the times you'd come to stay,
the fun things we'd do,
and the games we would play.

It's fun to have an aunt to talk to and make you smile,
somebody other than a parent
who always thinks you are worthwhile.

I could go on and on from here to Kalamazoo,
so to just put it simply,
I'll say, "I love you!"

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cooking is a Little Bit Like Teaching (But Only Just a Little Bit)

Happy New Year! Welcome, 2014!

As I think about all of my teacher-friends who are getting ready to return to work for a new semester, I can’t help but be thankful for the break I have been enjoying. I now seriously believe that sabbaticals should be incorporated into K-12 education and not just reserved for college professors. 2012 and 2013 were full of sress for me: I planned a wedding, overcame undiagnosed health issues while teaching for a third year, and then got married and moved 1500 miles away from “home.” The last several months out of the classroom have been a time for me to explore my interests and passions outside of education, to learn new skills, and to be a good wife to my fantastic husband.

One thing I have had more time for is baking, which always intimidated me a little bit, but became even more time-consuming when I went gluten-free. When I was teaching, I hardly had the time to make dinner, let alone bake cookies and other treats. As I was working on my first batch of donuts for New Year’s Eve dessert, my teacher brain got to work contrasting cooking and teaching. I know it might seem weird, but since I am happiest when I am creating something, it makes sense to me to compare creating something in the kitchen with enlightening young minds.

Here are some comparisons made by my optimistic self:
  • Cooking and teaching both require a lot of preparation. If you are missing something key, things just won’t turn out right. 
  • Recipes usually turn out how I want depending on what I put into them. Sometimes I do everything right and it still doesn’t turn out as I expect it to.  The same can be said for student performance.
  • In both the kitchen and the classroom, one learns best by doing.

Okay, so the optimism was short lived; here is my more cynical side:

  • In cooking, formative assessment consists of licking the bowl, tasting the sauce, and nibbling at dinner to make seasoning adjustments. In teaching, formative assessment means endless tests and data analysis, which just are not as fun as eating raw cake batter. (For those of you who are not teachers, formative assessments are given throughout the learning process to track progress, whereas summative assessments are given at the end of a unit of learning.)
  • In the kitchen, I can cook and bake whatever I want, whenever I want, and I can spend as much or as little time on it as I want. In most classrooms in this country, teachers are bound to curriculum maps and pacing guides that dictate what they can and cannot teach and when they have to teach it.
  • If I am teaching someone how to cook something and it turns out badly, we laugh and order pizza. If the students I am teaching do poorly on their summative assessments, I get a bad rating and my job security and/or reputation could be jeopardized.
  • At the end of a tough day, I can eat the cookies that I baked. I can’t eat the students who wear out my every last nerve.
  • Dinner smells great while it is cooking. Not all classrooms, or students for that matter, have a pleasant aroma. I hated it when the boys had gym before coming to my class.
  • Kitchen appliances, batters, doughs, soups, and roasts don’t talk back to me (yes, I talk to inanimate objects). Students talk back ALL THE TIME.
  • The mixer doesn’t get distracted by a cell phone. Students can’t function without one.

Is it any wonder that I am less stressed out this year compared to last? I love teaching, don’t get me wrong, but taking a break has been so wonderful. All of the great "teacher-highs" that make the job so worth it only happen after the stress, frustrations, and hours of work that go into a successful lesson. Sometimes I miss it, but I am also happy in this stage of my life right now.

Here is a look at some of the other stress-free things I did in 2013:

I made this awesome mug for my Daddy's birthday. I am pretty jealous of him for having it.

I spent much of August and September painting these peg nativities to give as Christmas gifts. I kept this secret for a long time! In the background you can see the Christmas tree skirt I made.

I had so much fun making these super heroes and Christmas sets for a craft sale. My favorite is the Elf collection.

I made Christmas stockings for Drew and I. His is made out of an old shirt! I also made a festive banner and mistletoe.

I thought these little owls would look adorable on our garland. I was right! In 2013 I also made a turkey, a turtle, and two elephants!

This was so exciting - a family asked me to paint them onto pegs as a stocking stuffer! 

I had a lot of fun renewing my blogging efforts this year and I hope to keep it up in 2014! Thanks for reading and for your comments and feedback. May God bless you in the new year!