Hang on to your hats for the mother of all tangents. You can bypass it to the recipe below if you like :).
We just got back from a trip to Nashville with the kids. We had a great weekend, visiting the Nashville Zoo and staying overnight with my Cousin Cindy’s family. My kids had a ball playing with their daughter Claire and gallivanting around the Zoo where we picnicked and saw everything from meerkats to giraffes. It was a relaxing and fun weekend and I’m so glad we got to do it.
This got me thinking about another trip, the first vacation we ever went on when I was a little girl. My daddy had a brand new truck, a 1979 silver Chevy Silverado, with a camper shell on back. He customized it with a special air horn that played “Dixieland” when you pressed this little black button under the dash and us kids thought that was really something.
I remember so many details about that trip, it is hard to believe its been over thirty years ago. What is funny is that I remember every single meal we ate out while we were gone, all three of them. You see, at home we didn’t eat out. Mama always cooked every meal. Even on this trip we stayed at those little roadside hotels where you left a deposit and they gave you a bag of pots and pans to use. Mama brought groceries and a cooler.
We drove all night to get there, Mama and Daddy sitting in the front and my brother, sister and myself riding in the back of the truck, an air mattress squeezed in for comfort. It seemed like we stayed up all night but it was likely only until ten or eleven. We laughed and told stories and my sister put all three of our inflatable swimming rings on and pretended she was a hula girl. It was so funny to us then that I still laugh now just thinking about it. My brother told us silly jokes and the giddy excitement of the trip had everyone in fits until we finally fell asleep from exhaustion.
In the morning we took turns climbing through the window to the cab so Mama could get us all dressed and after that was done we pulled over and stopped at a gas station for breakfast. Daddy let us pick out a snack cake, any one we wanted. It was the first time I had ever had raspberry zingers (they are kind of like a twinkie) and I got two of them in my package and to this day I think that was the most delicious breakfast I’ve ever ate.
Another morning during that trip we ate at a restaurant that put a smiley face on your pancake with whipped cream -cherries for eyes and a sprinkled trail of chocolate chips for the mouth. I swear I remember every bite of that pancake.
We spent a few days in Disney World (eating all of our meals at the hotel) and from there drove on to Daytona so we could see the ocean for the first time. I had a lime green swimsuit with a big yellow flower on the front and my head hurt when Mama made my ponytails that morning because I already had a red stripe sunburned into my part. I hardly slept the night before. It had been dark when we arrived but i could hear the ocean so loud outside the window and I kept trying to imagine how it made so much noise.
I was so proud to be playing in the waves as I danced in and out of the receding waters and staked my claim on the biggest sandbox I had ever seen.
That trip to a young child wasn’t like they are to adults, where they seem to pass by so quickly it feels you are arriving back home the day after you left. For me, that trip seemed to go on forever, each day filled with new wonders and excitement. On the long drive home, the last day, Daddy pulled into a doughnut shop for breakfast. It was a national chain and I’d never been to one because we didn’t have them in Alabama at the time. We went in and our eyes were met with cases and cases of brightly iced doughnuts, flavors and sprinkles of all kinds. He let us pick out whichever one we wanted and I got one with pink icing and rainbow sprinkles. I have no idea what my brother or sister or anyone else got, I was far too enthralled with my prize.
The icing even tasted like strawberries.
We still don’t have this doughnut chain where I am but I spotted one in Nashville this past weekend and told my husband I wanted to stop there on the way home and let the kids go in. We looked it up and found directions to the one nearest my cousin’s house and set off, even though we had eaten a full breakfast courtesy of their hospitality. We weren’t going because we were hungry for food anyway, I wanted to share this experience with my own kids.
As we were pulling in, I started telling them the story about how I ate there when I was a little girl and all about my doughnut with the pink icing and rainbow sprinkles and how it was so special because we didn’t get to just go to a doughnut shop, we didn’t have money for things like that. Katy looked as if she heard “blah blah blah doughnut with pink icing, blah blah blah” and Brady looked at me as if to say “It’s a doughnut Ma, get a grip”.
They have no idea what it is like for a simple trip to a doughnut shop to be so special that you remember the colors of the sprinkles and the flavor of the icing three decades later.
They’re used to chicken nugget kids meals out and pantries filled to the brim, brand name shoes and $40 video games. They haven’t a clue what its like to be handed a pink iced doughnut and feel as if you’ve been given the tiara, magic wand, and pixie dust all at the same time.
So here I am, walking my kids into a doughnut shop and feeling gratitude for everything my parents have ever done for us. For how hard they worked and for how insistent they were on us doing well in school. For my dad holding down three jobs so Mama could stay home and look after us rather than having to leave us in daycare or with a sitter. For them being at every school event we ever had and making it a point to brag on each report card we brought home.
I look at the case and there they are, pink iced doughnuts with rainbow sprinkles, and I can almost feel what it was like for my mother and father to be able to give us such a treat that day.
And now, thanks to them, my kids are oblivious to that kind of life.
And I’m pretty grateful for that, too.
~takes a deep breath~
Alright, lets get to cooking.
This is one of my husband’s favorite meals and it is shamefully easy and incredibly cheap. You see, my “steak tips” over gravy is nothing more than clearanced stew meat slow cooked all day inthe crock pot. Stew meat is easy to find on clearance. I usually pick up a few trays of it every few weeks and freeze it that day for this meal. Normally I use a tray half this size but I made a little extra today. Sometimes I do this with a roast as well, cutting it up into smaller pieces similar to how stew meat is cut.
A slow cooker is invaluable when it comes to cooking inexpensive cuts of meat. Meat that normally would yield tough results becomes fall apart tender through this method of cooking. The important thing to note is that tough meat needs fat in order to become tender. This is why roasts cooked in water are tougher than those cooked in gravy. You only need one can, even if you are making an entire roast, as it melds with the meat juices as they cook out as well and produce plenty of liquid.
Place “steak tips” in crock pot and cover with one can of beef gravy. I often pop these suckers in frozen and just break them up a bit as they thaw and begin to cook. You don’t have to use beef gravy, you can use a packet of brown gravy mix, prepared according to package directions, and that will be fine, too.
Cook that on low all day for seven to eight hours or on high for three to four. That is the general cooking time for all crock pot meals in case you wanted to know :).
Prepare rice according to package directions and spoon out steak tips and gravy to serve!
“When the grass looks greener on the other side, its time to fertilize your own lawn”
Special thanks to my reader and facebook friend, Ticha for this quote!