Friday, January 31, 2014

Chicken Fajitas {Freezer Meal}

There is an adorable little Mexican place right by our house, complete with twinkly strings of lights and colorful mosaic tiles. There are only about 15 tables and the joint is always packed. The servers know us and always greet us with genuine smiles, which says a lot considering our kids somehow manage to get more food on the floor than in their mouths. We often find ourselves there on Dollar Taco Night, and although the dollar tacos are delicious, my very favorite thing to order are the fajitas. 

Nothing quite beats a skillet of sizzling fajitas. I mean, when you can hear your food before it gets to your table, that's a party on a plate. With this recipe you can throw your very own fajita party at home, and by assembling fajita meal kits for your freezer, the party hits your plate even faster at dinnertime!

To begin prepping the fajitas, take 2 to 3 large chicken breasts and fillet them so that each breast becomes 2 chicken cutlets. Do this by placing the breast on the cutting board and with a long sharp knife, cut through the side of the breast from top to bottom, parallel to the cutting board. 

You want your chicken pieces to be thin because the dry rub includes sugar and when you go to saute your chicken breasts, the sugar will start to burn if the chicken cooks too long, which will cause a bit of smoke and then the fire alarm will go off and all the children will scream and the chicken will turn black and no one will eat it and you will be forced to go a cute little Mexican restaurant for dollar tacos instead. Which, all in all, is not a terrible way to spend the evening, but definitely a horrible waste of a freezer meal. SO SLICE YOUR CHICKEN THIN, YA'LL!

Anywho, on to the dry rub which includes a mix of brown sugar, chili powder and cumin.

Throw it all together in a large baggie with the chicken and coat the chicken thoroughly.

Now slice up the peppers and onion and place them in a separate baggie. Truth be told, I actually prefer fresh veggies to use on the night I make the fajitas. They are slightly more flavorful and crisp. But to save time, freezing your veggies works well too.  

Add a package of tortillas and shredded cheese and you have an entire meal kit ready to go!

Discover that your child has colored his entire face while you were distracted prepping freezer meals. 

When it is time to cook your fajitas, thaw the chicken, cheese and tortillas, BUT NOT THE VEGGIES! If you thaw the veggies, they will become colorful blobs of mush and no one will eat them and then you will have to eat plain fajitas or just give up and go eat dollar tacos. SO KEEP THE VEGGIES FROZEN, YA'LL!

Now, heat up a bit of olive oil in a skillet and saute the beautifully marinated chicken for a few minutes on each side.

Remove the chicken and add the frozen veggies. Stir them around to pick up all the spices and leftover goodness and cook through.

Now slice the chicken and you can even throw it back in the pan to recreate that sizzling fajita skillet!

I will say that these homemade fajitas beat dollar tacos hands down. Now that's a party on a plate.


Serves 4-6
  • 2-3 large chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin 
  • 1 medium onion, sliced 
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • package of (8) tortillas
  • olive oil
To ensure a quicker cooking time, fillet each chicken breast by placing the breast on the cutting board and with a long sharp knife, cut through the side of the breast from top to bottom, parallel to the cutting board. You should now have 2 chicken cutlets from each chicken breast.

In a ziptop baggie, combine brown sugar, chili powder and cumin. Add the chicken breasts and coat thoroughly. Place onion and peppers in a separate baggie. (You could also opt to use fresh veggies instead of frozen when you cook the fajitas.) Place the cheese in another baggie. Combine all the baggies and the package of tortillas in a large gallon bag - now you have a Chicken Fajita meal kit! Freeze entire bag.

When you are ready to cook the fajitas, thaw all ingredients EXCEPT FOR VEGGIES. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a couple tablespoons olive oil and saute chicken breasts for a few minutes on each side, until cooked through. Remove the chicken from pan and add frozen onions and peppers, stirring to absorb all the spices and oil from the chicken breasts. Cook for a few minutes until veggies are heated through. (Alternately, you can substitute fresh veggies here). Slice chicken breasts and serve with taco accompaniments!

**If you like the Chicken Fajitas, try Southwest Flank Steak!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Third Child Problems

Elise Laine aka "Baby" at 10 months

I've always prided myself on being calm and collected, but when my first child was born, all that level-headed confidence melted into a puddle of raging post-partum hormones. I was a wreck. I remember being afraid to leave my sleeping newborn in the house while I went out to check the mail because what if something happened in the 23 seconds I was gone?? 

Needless to say, I'm a different mother with my third baby than I was with my first. It's not that I'm more confident, it's that I'm more tired. After we brought Elise home, there were times I forgot I even had a new baby until I heard her crying in the next room.  With my first child, my goal for parenting was to raise a brilliant, caring, highly-motivated, super-successful individual. My new goal for parenting is to raise children who are successful enough to pay for their own therapy.

Here are some other differences:

1st Child: Was named before he was conceived. Named after cherished family members.
3rd Child: Was named in the hospital while Mommy was on a post-surgical narcotic high. Named by her 3-year-old brother after Superman's girlfriend. (It's where we got the "Laine" in Elise Laine. Don't judge.) 

1st Child: Came home to an impeccably decorated aviation-themed nursery.
3rd Child: Came home to a used bassinet next to Mommy's bed. Occasionally slept in the closet. Finally got around to getting a room at 6 months old.

1st Child: We prepared for his arrival by purchasing half the inventory at Babies R Us, including a wipes warmer so his little tushie wouldn't get too cold and a special shampoo rinse cup for bath time because, goodness, a regular cup would just never do. 
3rd Child: We prepared for her arrival by vacuuming the cracker crumbs out of the car seat. 

1st Child: His first food was rice cereal mixed with breastmilk at 4 months of age, as directed by the pediatrician.
3rd Child: A lollipop? Maybe it was ice cream?? I really don't remember.

1st Child: Has a completed baby book, documenting his every milestone.
3rd Child: Maybe I should get started on one of those...

It has become apparent that after 10 and a half months of neglect, Elise is finally seeking some revenge. 

She is refusing to crawl.

"No, I WILL NOT move from this spot!!"

If my first child had not crawled by 10.5 months, I probably would have made an appointment with an occupational therapist. Now, I figure that as long as my children are somewhat independent by the time they get to Kindergarten, the when and how of their milestones don't really matter that much. Although it is beginning to feel like I will have a child on my hip for the rest of eternity.

I've been trying all the usual tricks to motivate her, but she has a secret weapon: her brothers. You see, they ADORE her. From the minute she was born they have been enamored with her. They call her "Baby." Every sound she makes is adorable and every time she gets food on her face they erupt in a fit of giggles. Their sole purpose in life is to ensure she wants for nothing. 
His face still lights up like this every time he sees her.
So when I plop her down on the floor and she starts squealing and pointing because a toy is just out of reach, a brother will immediately come to her rescue. "Oh, Baby, DON'T CRY! You want your toy? Here you go! Look, Mommy, I made her SO happy!"

I can't say I blame her. If all I had to do was squawk and point and an adoring family member rushed to bring me whatever my heart desired, I would never leave the couch

I hope this is not her master plan. I think I will begin to worry if she is 25 and still sitting on the floor yelling, "MOOOOM! Can you hand me my lip gloss and make me a sandwich??" And I suppose I will have to oblige because I will feel so guilty about never making her a baby book. 

Maybe we should start warming up her wipes after all.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Love One Another or That Time I Was Assaulted at Target

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. ~Jesus 

"Mommy! It's not fair!" declared Jack one night after a stint in the time-out chair. "You always say I have to love my brother, but he hit me first! I don't love him very much when he hits me."

"Well, Sweetie," I replied hastily as I stirred dinner on the stove, "in this house we love one another, no matter what."

"I know, I know," he said begrudgingly, "God wants us to love each other." He paused for a moment, looked thoughtful and then asked, "But we don't have to love bad guys, right?"

"Well," I answered, turning away from the stove and taking a deep breath. (Why is it they always want to ask the deep theological questions when you have 3 burners going and a baby underfoot?)  "actually God does want us to love bad guys. He says if someone is mean to you, you should be kind to them." 

"WHAT?" he gasped, eyes wide as saucers, "WHY??"

Clearly this concept was too much for his little black and white brain to handle. Doesn't the superhero always fight the bad guy? 

"What do you think would happen if someone were kind to a bad guy?"

He thought for a minute. I saw the little wheels turning in his brain. "Maybe he would turn nice," he answered, "Maybe bad guys are mean because they don't have any friends. Maybe if we be kind to them, they won't be mean anymore."

An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind. ~Gandhi 

It's so easy to tell your children to love one another, to turn the other cheek. Last week, in the middle of Target, I had a chance to show them how to demonstrate that love.

And I failed. Miserably.

I can't really tell you what happened leading up to the altercation. I was on the hunt for frozen waffles, which would normally be a simple task, but when your navigating a ginormous cart full of grabby children through the store, grocery shopping becomes more like a jungle scavenger hunt with a team of wild monkeys.
The school bus of shopping carts.
All I know is one second I was prying a bag of shredded cheese from the clutches of my toddler, and the next instant, out of nowhere, a well-dressed, middle-aged woman, wielding a gallon of milk, angrily SHOVED my cart, with my children in tow, a good foot back towards me yelling, "DO YOU MIND??"

Now. I am worthless in confrontational situations. (Luckily this is about as intense as it gets in southern suburbia. I would never survive somewhere like prison. Or New Jersey.) I always think of the perfect thing I should have said after the fact, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME??"

"NO, I AM NOT KIDDING!" she ranted, waving her milk in the air to punctuate her point. "You are IN MY SPACE!!"

I mean, who does she think she is shoving carts of tiny children and sending their mother stumbling backwards?? I wanted to really TELL. HER. OFF. But again, the nastiest thing I could muster was, "Are you insane? What is your PROBLEM?" 

"Oh, I'll TELL YOU WHAT MY PROBLEM IS. You people with kids just think you OWN THIS STORE!!" She spewed a few profanities as she huffed away, and I did what I always do when people yell at me. 

I cried. "You are MEAN and RUDE!" I shouted between sniffs, even though by this point she was already in the next aisle. 
Reenactment. Photo by Jack.
Of course, all the other shoppers had stopped their shopping to watch the drama in the dairy aisle. One kind woman patted me on the back, "You have lovely children, don't let her upset you."

Well, it's a LITTLE LATE FOR THAT! Like I said, I don't do confrontation very well, so I spent the next 10 minutes wandering aimlessly, completely forgetting everything else on my shopping list. I tried to make sense of what had just happened and what I should do next.

What a lunatic!! I know! I'll go find her and purposely follow her around the entire store! We will all sing "Frosty the Snowman" the whole time! That will make her REALLY mad! Then, when she totally loses it, I'll record it on my phone and I will put her CRAZY FACE ALL OVER THE INTERNET! Yeah, that'll teach her!

Then I heard it. I heard my own voice in my head echoing what I always tell my children.

Love one another, no matter what.


Her outburst seems so petty looking back. She came at me with milk, not a knife. She didn't threaten my life, but she hurt my feelings. And I wanted to hurt her back.

I remembered Jack saying, "Maybe bad guys are mean because they don't have any friends. Maybe if we be kind to them, they won't be mean anymore."

And I began to think of this sharp-tongued stranger in a different way. Rational people don't pick fights with mothers and their small children. We encroached on her personal space, but perhaps a much bigger problem was filling her mind. Maybe she had recently been let go from her job. Maybe she had to put the family dog to sleep this very morning. Maybe she is addicted to milk and, dang it, she needed her fix!!

Sure there are times to stand up for yourself and there are times to fight back. But what if we fought back with love instead of hate? Instead, when push comes to shove (literally in this case), how often do we bare our teeth instead of turning the other cheek? How much do we dig in our heels instead of going the extra mile?

If I'm really teaching my children to love one another, to love thy neighbor, doesn't that include the mean and cranky neighbor? Or the neighbor that cuts me off in traffic? Or the neighbor that curses me out for no apparent reason?

It should be noted that on a return trip to Target, Jack came prepared with a plastic sword stuffed down the back of his shirt.
Clearly, my shopping trip had been ruined for the day, so I made my way to the check out. Of course, there she was, loading her groceries on the conveyor belt. 

I took a deep breath and wheeled up behind her. Here was my chance to show love and give grace.

"Hey. I'm sorry about all that back there in the dairy aisle." 

I wish I could tell you that my kind words made her burst into tears, hug my neck and exclaim, "I'm so sorry too! You see, I'm just so on edge cause I have this awful milk addiction! But, you know, thanks to you I think I just may be able to give it up."

That would have been a spectacular ending to this story. Maybe I was secretly hoping she would have some sort of similar reaction. Instead, I got NOTHIN. She would not look at me, would not speak to me. She completely ignored my presence. 

So I stood there. Awkwardly. Listening to the beeps of the scanner as she bagged her items. "Well, um, I hope you have a better day!" I added as she turned to leave. "So...ok, bye!" (Clearly, I have no future as a professional mediator.)

I'm not sure what I could have done differently to fight back with love. Maybe I could have offered her a hug back by the milk and cheese. Maybe I could have insisted on paying for her groceries. 

I do know that my ignored attempt at reconciliation made me feel better. And, even though my children were too busy begging for treats in the check-out line to notice anything else going on, I suppose I need to start practicing what I preach for when they are watching. 

I guess the point is, I'm going to have to be careful what I'm teaching my children, because I might just have to start living it out.

My pulse still quickens every time I pass a refrigerated milk case.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Chicken Pesto Alfredo {Freezer Meal}

It was the coldest day of 2014. Of course, we were only 7 days in to the new year, but still, it doesn't get much colder than a high of 25 degrees around here. It was so cold that schools were delayed. Not for snow, for cold. Don't laugh, Yankee friends. We Southerners don't handle winter well.

Personally, the initial excitement of breaking out my cute sweaters and boots has worn off. I'm done with pumpkin this and peppermint that. I feel like crying at 5:00pm when it's dark outside and BEDTIME IS STILL 3 HOURS AWAY. I'm so. over. winter.

Still, sometimes the best way to combat a polar vortex is to hunker down and have a pajama day. 

We decided that since we were stuck indoors, we might as well get the house back in order from all the holiday mayhem.

So we made up the beds.

We rearranged some furniture.

We started taking down the tree. 
We only got about halfway done with this task because someone kept trying to eat the lights.

Then, while the little ones napped I made a casserole. 

I don't make casseroles too often, but when a blustery day calls for comfort food, there is nothing more comforting than a plate heaped with warm, creamy pasta. 

Plus, this particular casserole is pretty amazing.

I started by sauteing some chicken breasts, mainly because I also wanted some chicken for salads and things throughout the week. Normally I would just use some rotisserie or leftover chicken.
Then, since the pan was already hot, I threw in some mushrooms, because yum.

After the pasta cooked, everything was ready to stir together.

 The only thing that could possibly make a cheesy pasta dish even better is a crunchy breadcrumb topping.

This recipe is perfect for a 9x13 pan, but I like to split it into 2 8x8 pans, one for dinner and one for the freezer. Also, instead of buying disposable pans or tying up a good dish in the freezer, everytime I need to freeze a casserole, I use this little trick.

1. Line your pan in foil
2. Line the foil with plastic wrap
3. Assemble casserole
4. Cover casserole with plastic wrap and foil. You may need to add an extra piece of foil over the top to seal everything in. Label with a permanent marker.
5. Freeze casserole.
6. After it's frozen, pop it out, leave it in the freezer and take back your dish.
7. When you're ready to cook your casserole, take it out of the freezer, unwrap and pop it back into your dish!

Last, cover pasta with tinfoil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover the pasta and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes.

When Daddy returned home from work that night, he was a little dismayed to find the house in such disarray.

But there was pasta. And any day that ends with pasta is a good day in my book.


  • 1 package (16oz) penne pasta, cooked & drained
  • 2-3 cups cooked chicken, cubed
  • 1 package (8oz) button mushrooms, sliced & sauteed 
  • 2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1 can (15oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 jar (15oz) alfredo sauce
  • 1 jar (5-8oz) prepared basil pesto
  • 1 cup milk
  • Topping
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
Combine all ingredients, except for topping, in a large bowl (pasta, chicken, mushrooms, cheese, spinach, tomatoes, alfredo, pesto and milk). In a separate bowl, combine topping ingredients (breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and olive oil). Pour the pasta mixture into 2 8x8 pans. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over the top. *Cover pasta with tinfoil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover the pasta and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes.  

*If the casserole has been in the freezer, thaw completely in the fridge before baking.