Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chicken Fajitas

I went camping this week.  The thing is, I'm almost 47 years old and I've never really camped before.  There was a weekend in my 20s when I went "car camping" with a friend of mine, but his idea of camping was to spend as many hours as possible in the car, so that when we got to the camp site all we had to do was pull together and ultimately eat the gourmet meals he had already prepped ahead of time.  I'm also not really sure you can count a Saturday overnight at a Girl Scout campsite where everything is essentially done for you, and when you wake up Sunday morning, you high tail it home for a shower and a blow-dry.  This time I went whole hog.  Four days.  Tents.  At the beach. With 3 kids, and no husband. 

It wasn't exactly like Deliverance.  "Facilities" were in walking distance and each campsite had an electrical plug and running cold water.  Friends of mine who've been, you know, lost in the Appalachian wilderness or stuck on a raft in the Grand Canyon will likely sniff disdainfully at the prospect of such amenities, but in my world this was hard core.  Until this week, "roughing it" meant shopping at Walmart.  From my perspective, any time you are picking bugs and leaves out of your pancake batter in the morning, it's a big deal.  And I went voluntarily.  What's up with that?

I think I know.  You learn a lot staring at a campfire that you had to make by yourself.  There is something large that is looming on the horizon of my consciousness.  It's base and fundamental and a little frightening:  I'm having a mid-life crisis.  That giant clock that is ticking down the minutes to my ultimate demise is reminding me that there's a whole lot of living I've been conveniently ignoring, and there's no time like the present to start ordering more off of life's menu.  Fortunately, instead of trading in the minivan for a red convertible and tossing aside my dear devoted husband (no camper, he) for a young Norwegian named "Sven", I just decided to go camping.  It may not be a destructive mid-life crisis, but it's a mid-life crisis just the same.

Our accommodations.  No turn-down service.
Of course, when you're camping, there's no time to really ruminate for long on the inevitability or imminence of death.  There are tents to pitch and campfires to start, and of course (because this really is a cooking blog) meals to prepare.   It is all hard, hard, work.  Camping is about putting yourself in an environment where even the simplest tasks require disproportionate effort.  And since the sleep that you eked out in your shoebox-sized tent was interrupted either by screeching critters or a child's left elbow dug into your right kidney, you are completely and utterly exhausted.  Fortunately, I had the good sense to camp with a cadre of friends and neighbors for whom camping is not merely something to survive, but rather, something that they actually enjoy.  Go figure.  My night to cook was shared with four other families who happily pitched in to feed our tribe of 9 adults and 13 kids. Oddly, when you surround yourself with people who are helpful, happy, and cheerful, you find yourself becoming--helpful, happy and cheerful.  Even camping.  Could it be that life isn't so much about chalking up disparate experiences, but instead finding the right people with whom to share them? 

Chicken Fajitas* (because something about camping screams "Tex-Mex").

1.  Prepare the marinade in the comfort of your kitchen.  No need to get crazy here.

2.  Blend together the following in a food processor:  1 cup vegetable oil, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion, 2-3 small jalapenos, seeded, 1 Tbs seasoned salt, 1 Tbs black pepper, 1 Tbs chili powder, 1 tsp each:  basil, cumin, thyme and oregano, 5-6 cloves of  garlic, 1-2 Tbs cilantro. 

3.  Pour it into a really good zip lock back because you don't want this stuff leaking.  Add 8-10 chicken breasts.  I used two bags.

4. Grill.  Slice. Serve with all the fixings that your friends contributed:   tortilla wraps, guacamole, pico de gallo, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, grilled peppers, and Spanish rice.

5. Take your fully loaded paper plate and park yourself in front of a campfire.  Think long and hard about how camping, like life, is made so much better and richer when it is shared with good and generous people.  I guarantee you--it will get you through any mid-life crisis. 

Courtesy of my friend Laurie, who got the recipe from her friend Julia, who probably got it from her sister-in-law Katie, who might have gotten it from her college room mate, Susan, who probably copied it right out of a published cookbook, but who, other than copyright attorneys, really keeps track of these things?


  1. We love to camp, but that Sven, well, you know, he's pretty cute! (One of your best entries, Cynthia -- love it!)

  2. I haven't read much of your blog Cynthia, but I agree with Ann; this is a really good entry. Not only is it interesting, revealing, and entertaining, but it is also extremely well written, and I'm not just saying that. In one of the college English classes I'm teaching, we're currently learning about narrative as a technique for developing an essay, and I was wondering if you would mind if I used this blog entry as an example of using narrative to make a point (as opposed to just telling a story to tell it)?

    Scott D.

  3. Dear Scott--Many thanks for your kinds words. I'd be very flattered if you used this entry in your class--just pass the link to your students. I'm becoming a junkie for "hits".


  4. Will do Cynthia. :)

    Scott D.