It’s Friday afternoon. I’m sitting at my work desk, one half of a full-wall desk Tim built for me a few months after Rocco was born. My chair is next to a window to the backyard, a lush monochrome of greens, and from it, as I finish my plate of chicken fajitas, I hear the quiet hum of a plane whooshing by overhead. The baby is asleep. The house is still. I have work projects awaiting me, and, right now, while I have the space, I should get to them, but first I want to mark this moment, this stillness. In the first days with a newborn, you think you’ll never have chunks of stillness again, but here it is, peaceful and ordinary and real.
I’m in the midst of a new book, God in the Dark, a journal of thoughts written by poet Luci Shaw. I grabbed it Wednesday night at the library, on a whim, and I’m already so far through, I’ll finish it Saturday, cozy on the sofa with Tim as sunlight streams through house. This collection of short thoughts, thoughts Luci kept in the 1980s while her husband got sick, went through chemo, died and then left her a widow, are easy to read, almost like modern-day blog posts. She deals with all the important topics you’d expect in a book like this: suffering, relationships, faith, grief. But, also, notably, unforgettably, she deals with beauty. Even amidst a hard, painful, tragic set of events, Luci is regularly, constantly arrested by the beauty around her. She is always remarking on or pulling her car over (mid-appointments, pre-breakfast, on vacations, before bad news, on the way to church, on the way home from brunch) to see something that catches her eye. She stops to notice the light as it hits a golden maple tree or clicks her camera’s shutter just as the sun shines through a certain throat of road.
The night I started reading her book, immediately drawn in to the poetic words, I Googled her and read about her life and saw some of her photos, taken with the eye of attention. There’s something I recognize in myself in the way she draws in close to fern fronds or the delicate petals of a bloom. I also found this interview, posted last year, where, she said this:
“My work, given to me by God, is to pay attention. This is to investigate, think about, pray about, and write about ordinary things to expose their significance. I need to write down what I observe and what I intrinsically know so it doesn’t get lost in the daily-ness of life.”
Even as she’s not writing poetry, she’s doing something poetry’s known for: slowing me down, making me think, shining an awareness of value into what could seem routine. She’s reminding me, in fact, of the ideas from another poet I talked about here recently and about the significance of marking value so it’s not lost. I thought about it yesterday when I was driving east of the city, past airport roads fringed by wildflowers growing out of concrete. I thought about it this Friday morning when I was laughing at Rocco slapping his hands together in the living room, one over the other, again and again. And just now, when I pulled out leftover chicken fajitas to warm up for lunch and reheat, when I handed Tim a plate of them where he’s working on his laptop on the sofa, when I took a plate back to my work desk, to eat, I couldn’t do it without stopping, just for a second, to think about it, notice it, give thanks.
There are lots of stories I could tell you about these fajitas, which we’ve been making for over a year and, for a solid chunk of months, once a week. They first came to us last spring, when my brother made them for us on one of our visits to Chicago; then, in the first few weeks after Rocco’s birth, he made them for us again, here in our home. I remember feeling so ravenously hungry when I ate them last July, constant nursing and napping sessions punctuated by watching TV and taking something else to my mouth. Every meal someone brought us was manna–a provision straight from God to me–and when I ate my warmed white spelt tortilla stuffed with chunks of spicy chicken topped by salsa, lettuce and cheese, I couldn’t believe how good it felt to fill my belly to the brim.
Months later, when friends had babies, these fajitas were what I usually brought. When I wanted a meal I knew we would love, both for the nostalgia of a big heap of chicken (just like my mom always made) and for the belly-filling joy of a hearty plate, it was these fajitas again. For several months of meal planning, we included them every week. Making them again yesterday, all those moments came rushing back to me. This is the power of a beloved recipe.
And what is worth marking now, here in this space, is the ordinary poetry of meals like these, meals made as part of routine, shared with one another, pulled out to warm up on the stove so we can keep working at our respective corners of the house. These meals aren’t always flashy or pinnable, but they’re useful and, more than that, used. They’re the actual meals we’re actually making to keeping getting from day to day. They’re functional and enjoyable and happily passed on, from brother to sister to friend, because everybody wants another good way to put dinner on the table each night.
This is what makes me want to food blog, less of a passion for cooking and more of a passion for enjoying. I’m not a chef and don’t pretend to be; I’m not even an obsessive home cook; I just enjoy food. I enjoy what it connects to and how it fits into the rest of life. I enjoy talking about it to talk about everything else. And like Robert Capon said, “The world may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the food lovers it can get” (paraphrased).
It is my opinion that our everyday moments, alongside chicken fajitas or what-have-you, are remarkably valuable and worth our attention. They are worth pulling the car over, so to speak, worth pulling out the mental shutter, worth pausing often to look at and see. I want this space to be a sort of poet’s look at food, more than a list of recipes, more than pretty photos. I want it to be an online space the celebrates everyday beauty through or alongside something to eat. After all, whether our days be currently filled with grieving and hospital visits or celebrating and exciting trips, they are still, usually, naturally punctuated by invitations to stop, if just for lunch, and not take for granted what is sitting on our plates. What a beautiful way to see the world gratitude gives us! What wisdom in seeing and spreading beauty wherever we go! I am learning from the poets, growing towards them, wondering how I can better celebrate the wild and wondrous world in which we live. If you’re here with me, noticing where you are, I’m glad.
Adapted from Taste of Home
After making this a couple times, I decided we like our fajitas heavier on the peppers and onions than most people, so the biggest departure from the original recipe here is doubled amounts of vegetables. You can also feel free to adjust to your liking; truthfully, another pepper wouldn’t bother me at all here.
Also note: You can make the chicken marinade a few hours ahead of time or right away when you’re ready to cook; I’ve done either way and either way works.
for the chicken marinade (used for a few minutes or up to 4 hours):
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 1 lemon)
1 1/2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder or granules
1/2 teaspoon chili powder or chipotle chili powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked (or regular) red paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips
for the pepper-onion mixture:
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 medium bell peppers, julienned
2 white or yellow onions, sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 flour tortillas (I’m a big fan of the white spelt ones we find at Whole Foods), warmed in a skillet on the stove
toppings, as desired
Shredded cheddar cheese
Avocado or guacamole
Sour cream or yogurt
In a large glass bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients, stir everything together with a spoon or your clean hands until the chicken is fully coated. Cover bowl and stick it in the fridge for a few hours, until you’re ready to start dinner, or a few minutes, while you make the pepper-onion mixture.
In your biggest skillet, warm the coconut oil and add all the peppers and onions. Toss the salt over the top. Cook, stirring often, until peppers are soft and just starting to char. Then, scoop them all out to a clean bowl or plate.
In the same skillet, scoop out the chicken pieces from the marinade bowl with tongs and cook for a few minutes on each side, without stirring, until chicken is fully cooked and beautifully golden. Add all the peppers and onions (if your skillet won’t fit everything, you can do this in batches) and lower heat to just barely still on.
Serve chicken mixture in warm tortillas, topped as you like.