Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dark Days, Steak Fajitas, and the Damage and the Dust

Have you ever had one of "those" days?

I'm not talking about one of those days when the guy in front of you has his blinker on yet has no intention of turning. Or one of those days when the souffle you labored over for hours turns out like a piece of damp cardboard. Or one of those days when your teacher tells you to get up in front of the class so you can give the oral report that she forgot to tell you about. (Or even worse, when your teacher tells you to give the report and you realize you are naked.)

No. I'm talking about one of those really bad days. The kind of day when you wake up and the gray sky outside your window threatens to crush you like a heavy stone. When you cast off the covers and find yourself buried beneath the damage and the dust.

Or maybe it's not one of those "days".

But one of those weeks.

Or months.

Or years.

This is beyond a stuck blinker. A collapsed souffle. Or a naked recitation in front of the whole class.

We're talking about serious stuff. Lost cell phone? Runny eggs? Dead car battery? Forgotten anniversary? Heck. Mere child's play.

Have you been there? I have. Why just this past Sunday I was there. Loved one. Stricken. Emergency room. A gazillion medical tests. Yep. Lots of damage. Lots of dust.

So I found myself trying to make sense of it all, knees struggling to bend in prayer, drowning my sorrows in a couple of Blue Moons,  a bowl of orange slices, and a Green Bay Packers game on the big screen. I even had a pound and a half of flat iron steak marinating in some Key lime juice and cumin to make a pile of fajitas that only someone who was not in my state could enjoy.

Then our two dogs started barking out on the porch like there was no tomorrow. I glanced through the blinds and saw my friend John Mark down in the driveway waving like a  United Airlines' ground crewman trying to guide a wayward 747 into the gate during a blizzard. I jumped up and wrangled the dogs inside so John Mark could make his way up the porch stairs unscathed and with calves intact.

I threw open the door and John Mark strode into our living room with a smile that lit up the entire space. We embraced and exchanged greetings while Sherry poured him something to drink. Energized, I bounded into the kitchen, grilled the flat iron, sauteed the onions and peppers, then wrapped them all up in warm tortillas. We poured some red wine and feasted on this thrown-together meal as if it were prepared for kings. We laughed and spoke of memories that surely brought smiles to the angels. Seriously, we laughed so hard we all spilled some salsa on our jeans and dribbled wine on our shirts.

Two hours and many stories later, John Mark climbed into his mini van and headed north leaving my spirit a tad bit lighter and my shirt stained with the memory of good company.

As I ambled up to bed I was reminded of a song by Peter Himmelman: Beneath the Damage and the Dust. (View the video here on YouTube : Sure, it's a little old. But truth is timeless so they say.

John Mark's laughter and joy scraped away some of the damage and dust from me that night and I went to bed realizing that I have that opportunity everyday. Who knows what a kind word could mean to the haggard cashier at the grocery store. The dollar to the homeless guy with the miss-spelled sign on the corner. Asking the elderly man or woman in the pew next to me for their advice. Or how that souffle, imperfect as it might be, may satisfy those who are gathered around my table.

Yep. Who knows? Our small acts of kindness, even the meals we prepare, might heal some of the damage that others bear.

Heck, and those acts of kindness just might remove some of the dust that covers us.

It did me.

Now, how about some more of those steak fajitas?



This cooking method may be a little different than you're used to. But trust me. It rocks.


1 pound flat iron steak
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed between your fingers
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
1 small onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup fresh Key lime juice (or bottled Nelly & Joe's is fine)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 red or green pepper, sliced
8 tortillas, warmed
Grated cheese and salsa or other condiments


1. Combine the chili powder, oregano, cumin and cayenne pepper in a small bowl, then rub the mixture into the steak. Place the steak in a re-sealable plastic bag and add the onions and garlic to distribute. Pour in the lime juice and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

2. When the steak is nearly done marinating, preheat your oven as high as it will go (500 degrees or higher). Place a cast iron skillet on the stove and heat over medium-high heat until it becomes very hot and turns grey (10 minutes or so).

3. Remove the steak from the bag and pat dry. Place the steak into the cast iron skillet then immediately place the skillet on the bottom of the pre-heated oven. (If you cannot place it right on the floor of the oven, place it on the lowest rack). Cook for 3 minutes. Turn the steak and cook for an additional 3 minutes for medium-rare.

4. While the steak is cooking, saute the onion and pepper in a lightly oiled skillet until slightly tender.

5. Remove steak and let sit for 5 minutes or so. Slice the steak very thin and serve on warm tortillas with the sauteed onions, peppers and condiments.

Serve with some cold sangria or a couple of Blue Moons.


  1. Sharing a good meal, with a good friend and shared laughter can realign our perspective to feeling more positive. Cheers to you!


  2. @Velva. Thanks for the good word! Please stop by often - there's always room around this table. Cheers to you as well!

  3. Great story and great fajitas :) sometimes we don't need that much.. but someone else has to remind us that :)

  4. Thks for sharing your day & the wonderful recipe! I'm a happy-go-lucky person by nature, so dark clouds pass me by very fast. Feed me good food & I'm refreshed & recharged! Hahaha!

  5. One of my favorite quotes I'll share with you. More than appropriate for your life...
    "A meal, however simple, is a moment of intersection. Shared with others it is an occasion of joy and communion, uniting people deeply."

  6. @Medeja. Sweet. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. @Blackswan. I'm pretty happy-go-lucky, too Shirley. Perhaps it's because we always have so much good food around. lol

  8. @Debra. What a great quote! Where is it from? I'm asking because it's very close to what I say in the "About Me" section of my blog. Eerily so. :-)

  9. Warren, you gave me homework...
    I came across it years ago and crossstiched it for our community days.

    You have a mind that runs parallel to an Amish sociologist...Elise Boulding

  10. Oops, sorry.... A Quaker sociologist

  11. Yes. Emergency rooms are not my favorite places. Guaranteed to leave a trail of anxious weariness behind them. So glad you had a friend to help restore your souls... and hoping Sherry is doing well.

  12. @Debra. Sorry, didn't mean to give you that homework assignment (yes I did).

    I will have to look up Elise. I'm intrigued.

    Now...don't you have some homework to do? :-)

  13. @Leslie. Such kind words from someone who has seen her share of emergency rooms I'm sure. Thanks!

  14. Great story. We all can use a reminder like this once and awhile. I'm 8 months pregnant with my second child and finding myself so incredibly ready to be finished with it, but I have to constantly tell myself that this pregnancy is a beautiful gift and that once it's over, it's over. So I am working on being more positive and thankful for what I have and trying to better live in the moment. Thanks so much for sharing!

  15. Isn't it wonderful how such a small gesture can turn another person's outlook around? I loved this post and your recipe sounds fab.

  16. I just loved this post. B/c it has been one of those "months" for me. Grandmother in bad health, ER visit for my husband, crappy weather that seems to never go away. Some kind of funk that I just can't shake off. By the way, I put a link to your blog on my blog. It's too good not to share. Thank you for the smile. Much love* Kelly @

  17. @ Abbey. Thanks, Abbey. 8 months, eh? Here's hoping it goes by quickly. (At least the weather's on your side - thank goodness it's not August!) Of course I hope you will let those of us on Table for Two know when the great day arrives. :-)

  18. @ FoodieandtheChef. You're so right. I'm often amazed by how those little acts affect me. I just have to realize how much my attitude and even my small actions might affect someone else. I believe it was Philo of Alexandria who said "Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle". 'Bout sums it up for me.

  19. @ Kelly. Thanks for the encouraging words! So sorry to hear about your grandmother and hubs. Here's hoping you're granted some rays of sunshine during this time. Oh, and thanks for linking. Feel free to do so anytime. Take care!

  20. Awww ... what a touching post. I have been there and survived it, feeling the impact of the entire grey sky fall on me. But there will always be a way to dig yourself out of it. I've always believe things will always turn out ok in the end. Hang in there and believe it or not ... cooking and eating food really helps calm the soul, even if it tastes like cardboard at that moment :D

  21. @Ping. Thanks for dropping by Ping and yes, things are already looking up. Feel free to stop by often. (Great blog, btw. I'm now following).

  22. Ahh... The little things.. Hope the situation is better now :)

  23. I so enjoyed reading your post .. i guess only such days helps us to value more those beautiful days !
    We ( Hubby and I ) love Steak but I mostly ruin it when i try to make it at home. Only once it was a success. I will definitely try your recipe soon :)

  24. @Caramel Wings. Much better, thanks! Time to whip up a few more helpings of blog buffoonery! :-)

  25. @ Sunshine. Grilling your steak on a very hot cast iron skillet then tossing it onto the floor of a pre-heated oven is a great way to grill steaks indoors. Let me know how your's turns out!

  26. I hope that you are doing well. Thanks for sharing and I hope that your loved one is OK. So true that a kind word or a friendly hand can make such a big difference during a hard time. What an encouraging post.