Four Names Eats: Tex Mex Baked Chicken Wraps

I am a big fan of quick meals, but I  am not a fan of sacrificing the healthfulness of the food I feed my family. When I go grocery shopping, I make a list and try to plan out my meals, but inevitably, one of us ends up eating the broccoli for the broccoli rice casserole as a snack or I Elliott refuses to eat anything but cucumbers for three days straight, so I don’t have any left on the night I planned to soak them in homemade vinaigrette. I try to make a point of not bringing (too much) junk into the house so it’s easier to resist temptation, but that can limit my ability to roll with the punched sometimes. So, inevitably, I spend a lot of time making stuff up as I go along. This meal was one of those.

We don’t eat a ton of meat usually, but we’re definitely omnivores in this house. With that said, as a family, we eat a fraction of what most people would consider a single serving or two when it comes to meat. I like to buy free range, antibiotic-free, vegetable grain-fed, air chilled chicken breasts in the family packs when they go on sale at Central Market. That’s a lot of adjectives for one pack of chicken, but you can truly taste a difference. At least I can! Anyway..

30 Minute Meal: Tex Mex-style Baked Chicken Wraps
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For four servings, I use one to two breasts (depending on size), fully butterflied. Bake the breast filets in foil packets at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. Quick, easy, and no pan to clean later!

While the chicken is baking, start your pot of black beans. I use the Central Market Organics canned black beans, drained and rinsed. Add a wedge of sliced onion and a piece of bacon for flavoring (if you want).

While the chicken continues baking and your black beans start to boil, dice your veggies. I used sweet Vidalia onions, red bell pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, avocados, and canned green chiles (all organic). I take out what I need for my guacamole and put the rest on a plate, which will be used as the fillings for everyone to make their own wrap at the table.

Wash and chop your lettuce of choice (I use romaine most frequently) and whole leaf cilantro. I buy the romaine hearts in a 3 pack, usually no more than $2 for organic. Can’t beat it. Toss the romaine in your favorite dressing. I usually make a homemade citrus white balsamic vinaigrette, but that’s a post for another time.

Shred your cheese of choice. This time, I used Tillamook habanero jack. I always shred my own cheese because the pre-shredded stuff has cellulose (a.k.a. the compound that gives wood its strength and is commonly added to food as an anti-caking agent). Even the organic cheeses shredded in the store at Central Market contain cellulose if you read the ingredients. I’ll take 2 or 3 minutes out of my cook time to shred my own cheese.

Using a fork, mash your diced avocados, finely chopped cilantro, red onion, diced tomatoes, and fresh squeezed lime juice in a bowl until your guacamole is as chunky or smooth as you like. Hint: the longer you smash and stir, the less chunky it’ll be. More avocado= thicker, more lime juice= creamier.

Cut limes into wedges for drizzling over your finished wraps.

When the chicken is done, cube it and add it to your plate of fillings. Grab your wraps (I used Mission brand Tomato Basil tortilla wraps) and get started filling. The black beans can be tossed in the wraps or served as a side dish along with the guacamole and chips. I buy Garden of Eatin’ chia seed tortilla chips.

Squeeze a wedge of lime over everything and enjoy!

 

Summer may be over but I still don’t see any autumn.

So, it has been a while (an embarrassingly long while) since I updated this thing and I’m afraid it’s gotten to the point where there’s just so much stuff to post that I don’t even know where to begin. It might seem a little helter-skelter around here for a bit because I’m going to post things that aren’t necessarily in chronological order, but bear with me. I haven’t been posting because things have just been that busy around here. I’ll start with something fun.

Our little family just returned home from an adorable vacation spent in Galveston. We rented a lovely yellow house a block away from the beach and had a blast at the tail end of the season.

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Elliott is used to Galveston because her dad lived there for a while and his parents and siblings still do, so her visits with them always included time on the seawall. Grayson, however, had never even seen a beach in his fifteen months of existence, but boy did he make up for lost time.

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My dad used to take me and my sister Liz, who was maybe 5 or so at the time, for weekend visits in California (where I was born) when I was Grayson’s age and he loves to tell the story of me sprinting as fast as my chubby legs could carry me toward the water of Monterey Bay. I was waiting for Grayson to try kamikaze-ing into the brownish waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but he was not a fan of salt water in his nose, so that wasn’t too much of an issue after the first wave he underestimated.

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Ellie was way more interested in building sandcastles (or, rather, what she referred to as sandcastles), mainly so she could destroy them. She got the most ridiculous tan ever after our four days of unrelenting sunshine. My mom has been joking non-stop that Ellie’s darker than me now, but she’s blind without her glasses, so what does she know?

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Overall, Galveston is a far cry from the white sand beaches of Florida and the water definitely isn’t blue or green like you’d get in Hawaii or the Caribbean, but the house we rented was comfortable and really cute, the whole vacation was really affordable, and BEST OF ALL, it’s an hour and fifteen minutes away, which minimized our risk of roadside temper tantrums.

There are lots of things to do in Galveston, depending on your budget and what you and your troop enjoy doing. My tiny tyrants require constant engagement, for the most part, so the beach itself was a major hit. The other families kids shoving sand into buckets, the passersby with dogs on leashes, the seemingly endless parade of pigeons or whatever those birds were, and the sand and waves made for quite a few lovely and relaxing afternoons.

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We took the ferry to Bolivar Island right at sunset and that was fantastic. The ride itself is slightly less than 3 miles and, at about 15 minutes each way, is long enough to enjoy without being too long, but on weekends, the return line can get preeettty long. I highly recommend checking the Houston TranStar traffic camera website (http://traffic.houstontranstar.org/cctv/transtar/by_roadway.html?mnu=ferry&rd=Galveston_Ferry) first. We saw dolphins, seagulls, a light house, and a partially-sunken World War I ship, and best of all- it’s totally free!

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My mom went with me on the ferry to make sure no tiny humans went overboard.

We ate a LOT of seafood, which for a homesick New Orleanian was a treat. There’s an impressive amount of Gulf seafood around town (who’dve expected that in a town on the Gulf of Mexico?), ranging from $6 poboys to gourmet cuisine. We had really great Italian at a place called Mario’s on the Seawall. I literally ate shrimp every single day. That alone almost qualifies the place as heaven.

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L-to-R: shrimp scampi, shrimp Alfredo, and shrimp parmesan at Mario’s on the Seawall.

We skipped the “Pleasure Pier” because Ellie’s dad has taken her there before and it’s a rip off. Apparently, it’s $10 just to walk onto the boardwalk, before you play any games or ride any rides. There are a very limited number of rides, they’re pretty expensive, the games are your typical carny fare, and there aren’t really any toddler-friendly rides, aside from a big ferris wheel. I’d rather take Ellie to the carnival that parks in the Sharpstown Mall parking lot for all that hassle, to be honest. And anyway, my first priority at any carnival isn’t the rides or the games. I go there for the candy apples. But that’s a post for another time.

All in all, we had a really great time. Then again, I’d have a great time just about anywhere with John. With our rugrats in tow and my mom there to lend a helping hand, it’s a recipe for well-spent family time.

An overload of recent cuteness

So many things have happened to the FNE krewe in the past couple of months.

  • I went back to work at my old job.
  • We started hardcore potty training. Let’s just say there were many days that didn’t include pants.
  • We moved furniture around- big time. The junky front room became a proper living room. The den became a large dining room. The former (tiny) dining room/eat-in kitchen became a temporary catch-all until it becomes a playroom. The catch-all third bedroom caught more stuff.
  • I got a job as a writer.
  • The kids started daycare.
  • I turned 25. (the horror!)
  • I did a large-scale re-arrangement and re-decoration of the living room, complete with fun DIYs (which included an engineer print of Andy Warhol and the Clash and a faux-snakeskin lamp with a custom shade).
  • I decorated the outside of the house for Halloween
  • Elliott turned 3 and had a Princesses & Pirates-themed party to celebrate
  • Grayson turned 6 months old (three days later)
  • It got super cold in Houston

So much stuff to talk about! But since I’m WAAAY overdue for my bedtime, I’ll just leave you with some pictures of all the cuteness that’s been going on.

Sibling portrait

Sibling portrait

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Elliott helping Grayson perfect his dishwashing technique

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Post-bath smiles

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Ready for school

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My mini me and her birthday balloon

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Ellie hanging out in her favorite station in her classroom

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Grayson & my sister, Aunt “Pizza”

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a Pirate and a birthday Princess (and part of Aunt Lysa)

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Ellie and her bodyguards go night night.
(This was earlier tonight.)

An adorable (DIY) shared nursery for two adorable children

As penance for my really shoddy record with updating this thing lately, I figured I’d do a big post. Welcome to my hazy recollections of creating a shared nursery for my two kiddos.

My daughter & I moved in with John in August or September of 2012 and by December, I was gathering inspiration for how I was going to transform what was once Ellie’s “jungle safari” themed bedroom that I had grown sick of into a gender-neutral nursery that wouldn’t be stifling for either of them.

We have three bedrooms, so eventually they’ll have their own rooms, but for now, we want them to share a room. I, personally, think it’ll make them close and I also don’t like the idea of giving up a space for guests just yet if we don’t have to. The third bedroom is currently a totally junky catch-all room slash “mancave” where John has his electronic drum kit and dual-screen PC setup. Very little time is spent in there, but hopefully (once I start/finish making the playroom for the kids and get matching nightstands for my own bedroom) I can eventually get in there and make it a legitimate room where he’ll want to spend time.

When I began visualizing what I was going to do with the kids’ room, I pictured bright and airy walls with a colorful and playful color scheme that could also make a restful sleeping space. I wanted something appropriate for a little boy and little girl to share. I decided to skip a theme altogether because I think that’s what led me to get sick of my daughter’s decor so quickly.

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By the time we’d spent two years looking at the tan zebra print and overabundance of zebras, giraffes, monkeys, and lions all over the place, there was nothing fresh about it, no matter how well tied-together the room may have been. One of the first things I did before we moved in was paint the walls in her bedroom yellow and tan and that was the first thing that needed to go. What was once my favorite shade of yellow paint, when mixed with that tan (admittedly, an oops color that I got from Home Depot for $5), had turned into a drab combination that reminded me of a hot dog bun or soft pretzel covered in mustard. I hate mustard of all kinds, but none quite so vehemently as yellow mustard. It made the room feel darker and smaller which was absolutely ridiculous because this is a MASSIVE bedroom.

So, the color du jour became tan. Not just any tan, though. I wanted a crisp, yet warm tan that wouldn’t clash with the gray carpet (that I am seriously ready to replace with hardwood laminate floors). I wanted something that could serve as the backdrop for decor changes throughout the years. I wanted something bright during the day and calming at night. I ask a lot of my paint colors, I know.

The next step in the process was where things got kind of iffy. I had the genius idea to mix my own shade of tan, rather than waste that dreadful more-like-light-brown-than-tan oops color that I got for 5 bucks. That’s not really the iffy part, though. The iffy part comes in where I thought it was logical to mix only enough paint to put one coat on the walls and wouldn’t exercise enough patience to not paint after a rainy day in the middle of February. Needless to say, that turned into a disaster.

I painted the day after it rained. I’m pretty sure it was in the 30s or 40s, temperature-wise, which is basically -19 fahrenheit in Houston terms. The paint was soooo streaky. I wish I had a picture but it didn’t photograph well. I had dark streaks and light streaks and streaks that didn’t even look like colors that would be anywhere along the spectrum of light tan to brown. And, of course, I didn’t have more of the same shade of tan mixed.

So, I mixed another bucket of tan paint. This time, I had the foresight to mix the rest of the can, but sadly, it was only enough to do a second coat (on a day with an appropriate climate). The second coat dried alright, but still needed another coat on top of that to fully cover the yellow and light brown that had been there before. That’s where the disaster part came in. I only had enough paint left to do a third coat on two of the walls.

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This would be the moment where a normal person would admit defeat, but I painted the two walls that needed it worse and convinced myself that it wasn’t terribly noticeable that one of the walls is an ever-so-slightly-lighter shade of tan than the other two. Just in case you’ve been counting and were beginning to doubt my basic addition skills, it’s worth noting that I painted the fourth wall a great shade of tangerine that I got from Home Depot. I want to say I sprang for the Glidden.

I put up two of the Ikea curtain panels that I brought over from my apartment when we moved. The window in this room looks out into our backyard and lets in an incredible amount of natural light during the day, so the crisp white curtains keep it bright, but tone it down just a little. I love the whimsical black sketch-like outlines of trees and birds. It ties in with the tree decal that I put up on the wall above the changing table (which is no longer there). I think that’ll be a post for another time, though.

I spent a lot of time and energy making the accessories for this room. I wanted the kids to have unique things that I made myself, from the wall hangings to the decorative items around the room.

As for the contents of this side of the room, the play kitchen was a gift from my dad to Ellie for her birthday, I think. The poster is for the Columbiana (Alabama) State Fair and came from my childhood bedroom in New Orleans. It survived Hurricane Katrina. The star lamp and hanging toy holder in the corner came from Ikea. The toy bin was one of those $29 deals from WalMart and it Toy Story themed, but I turn the canvas bins backward so that only the blue is visible. (They have the aliens from the claw machine on the front.) The little shelf thing is one of those modular cube things you can get anywhere that sells Closet Maid items (WalMart, Target, Home Depot), and the yellow bins were $1 each at the Dollar Tree.

You can’t see Ellie’s bed well in this photo, but it’s the Sniglar toddler bed from Ikea. It came in an unfinished pine and I stained it the same color that I stained the Sniglar crib (from the same line at Ikea) for Grayson. I believe it was a walnut color from Minwax. I’m so pleased with how they turned out and will definitely devote a post to them. I love the Sniglar and Gulliver cribs from Ikea because they’re good-looking, affordable, and endlessly customizable. I got the toddler bed and its mattress, and the crib for around $200 altogether and they’re a custom-stained set. Can’t beat it.

I’ll follow this post up very soon with a detailed description of the accessories that I made for this room. There are custom wrapped canvasses, all sorts of framed goodies, a DIY lamp, an origami mobile, and some other cute things in store. The other half of the room is so much better than what I’ve shown you but I’m WAY overdue for my bedtime.

Less time in front of the stove, more time at the table together: A quick, delicious dinner

It may sound cliché or unlikely, but I absolutely love the housewife part of being a mother and live-in girlfriend or domestic partner or whatever the proper term would be for my role in my family’s home life. While I don’t necessarily love cleaning, I do know how to do it well and I take a lot of pride in my home. More so than cleaning, I love love love to cook for my family. I love coming up with my own recipes and putting effort into something that my family can sit down and enjoy together. Few things please me more than my two year old going back for seconds because dinner is so “yummy in the tummy.” As beautiful as those sentiments may be, however, it is a fact that sometimes cooking can be a chore. A lovable, gratifying, time-consuming chore. Meals like this make cooking just a tad less time consuming because the family part of family dinner is the most important part, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice taste or healthfulness. I give you my 30 minute stir-fry. This particular recipe is meat-less, but you can easily add chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, or whatever protein you like. The great thing about this recipe is the flexibility of it. You can pretty much toss whatever veggies, fresh or frozen, you have on hand into your wok (or in my case, large non-stick skillet), add whatever protein you’d like, and the outcome will be delish.

My ingredients: Pasta- I used thin spaghetti, but it’s just personal preference here. (Linguine would work, spaghettini, traditional spaghetti, whatever) Fresh broccoli (though I always have a pack or two of florets in my freezer) Baby carrots, halved lengthwise Yellow onion Green bell pepper

chop veggies

If I were to make this tonight, I’d add some frozen shelled edamame, some shredded cabbage, and bean sprouts.

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Spices/Sauces: Black pepper Onion powder Garlic powder (or garlic salt, which is used more sparingly) Crushed red pepper Olive oil (for sauteing) Soy sauce Rice vinegar 20131003-170112.jpgYou can also use broth (veggie, chicken, beef, whatever) if you want your pasta to be a bit more saucy, but I like it drier with the flavor of the soy and vinegar.

So, put simply, while I boiled the pasta, I chopped my veggies into fairly uniform bite-sized pieces, sautéed in olive oil, sprinkled with my spices in no particular measurement. (Not the best instructions for a recipe, I know, but I keep it simple.) I pretty much just coat the surface of my veggies with the spices, most heavily with garlic and onion powders, more sparingly with the red pepper (unless you want it spicier).

By the time the veggies have softened, the pasta is done and drained. I then added the pasta to my skillet, drizzled with more olive oil, and added enough soy sauce to wet all of the noodles, tossing the pasta continually to ensure even coverage. I then drizzled the rice vinegar, which is more for taste, and continued tossing the pasta and veggies. Another sprinkling of the garlic and onion powders, a few more turns, and the pasta was done.

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One cutting board, one skillet, one pot. Super simple, super quick, super easy. Most importantly, super delicious. This is something I like to serve with a simple green salad. It’s a pretty healthy meal and by skipping the salt while cooking, the soy sauce doesn’t overwhelm your body with sodium. Toss some veggies into a skillet with some soy sauce and rice vinegar, make some brown rice or pasta to go with it and you have a simple meal that’s satisfying, cheap, and (at least in our house) toddler-friendly.

Hello, strangers!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted and for that, dear readers, I am truly sorry. It’s been a hectic few months and mama needed a break. I went back to work at the end of August when I got back from my Toronto/Chicago adventure vacation and between work and trying to get everything situated for my return to school, plus the two children and our work-in-progress house, it’s been a bit of a struggle to balance being creative with writing about being creative. Instead of going crazy trying to post stuff or half-assing it, I chose to continue doing and just let the writing happen later. Well, later is now and boy, do I have a ton of stuff to share!

So, without further ado… I bring you more adventures from the Four Names krewe.

AND WE’RE BACK.

Sorry I haven’t posted in over a week, but I had some adventures in Canada and Chicago that kept me without reliable wifi for nine days and, as much I love my readers, I ain’t payin’ international roaming fees just to update the blog.

So so so much stuff coming soon. I’m about to cook dinner for la familia and then I’ll sit my butt down in front of the computer and get to gettin’. I have recipes, photos of all the cute crap my kids do, and I may even post some of the photos from the zany shenanigans I was part of in Britney Spears’ favorite overseas country.

Strap yourselves in because we are about. to. ride.