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No matter that it’s mid-winter by the calendar… outside where it counts, it’s early spring.

The bright sunny day has inspired me to all sorts of spring cleaning.  I’ve mopped floors and scattered the dust off furniture.  My bed linens are freshly washed and even now, a white coverlet hangs on the backyard gate soaking up sunshine  and Oklahoma wind.  Even our little Scottie dog hasn’t escaped my attention — freshly washed herself, Cosmo is driving poor Max to forget they’ve been ‘fixed’ to live squeaky-clean, G-rated lives.

The way I like clean-living, it’s easy to forget I wasn’t raised in a squeaky clean house.  Housekeeping was never tops on Mom’s priorities.   The only time we could count on a clean house was when company was coming.  Even then, to make our house presentable, it took all hands on deck  to cram two months of cleaning into one day.

In spite of her poor housekeeping, Mom enjoyed having company.  Importantly, the reverse was true also:  folks liked being Mother’s guests.  Mom was a wonderful cook and she loved to play card games, but mostly, it was Mom’s lack of pretentiousness that caused guests to forget themselves and have a good time.  My girls were never ready to leave — they would have moved in had Mom invited them.

Housekeeping regimens probably changed once my parents moved to Texas, as entertaining occurred less often, with guests usually staying over a long weekend.  My parent’s entertaining base kept changing every couple of years, with the phone company transferring Dad to Austin, San Antonio, Kingsville, Corpus Christi and eventually to Lake Jackson.  But all the changes in scenery offered guests a chance to soak up different parts of Texas culture.

It was Kingsville, in 1982, where mom first served beef fajitas.  The girls were young — Kara 8 months old and Kate just four — when I took my family ‘home’ for Christmas.  I’d never heard of fajitas and was a little hesitant about trying this new food.   But it wasn’t long before we were all filling our tortillas like old hands… and thank goodness, soon finding them on menus at Oklahoma restaurants.

Fajitas are easy to prepare in advance, which is one secret of being a good host.  But certainly there are other secrets, which raises the question of what good hospitality should look like.  Margaret Guenther’s Holy Listening, provides answers by describing what happens when we offer hospitality:

“We invite someone into a space that offers safety and shelter and put our own needs aside, as everything is focused on the comfort and refreshment of the guest.  For a little while at least, mi casa es tu casa, as the Spanish gracefully put in.  There are provisions for cleansing, food and rest.  Hospitality is an occasion for storytelling with both laughter and tears, and then the guest moves on, perhaps with some extra provisions or a roadmap for the next stage of the journey.”

Guenther shares a perfect recipe for hospitality.  My mother followed it, my friend Bernice follows it, and Susan — my source for today’s recipe — follows it.  “Make yourself at home.”  They said these words in a way that their guests knew they meant them.

From the inside out is where it all counts:   “Mi casa es tu casa. ” And in my mother’s casa, whether it was tidy or not.

De mi vada a tu’s — from my life to yours.

Beef Fajitas

4 servings        Preparation Time:  1 hour or less (excluding marinade time)

Serving Note:  The fajitas can be made in advance and kept warm in a foil-lined ice chest.

2 lbs skirt steak
1/2 cup bottled Italian dressing
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp garlic powder
juice of 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients except steak and mix well.  Remove as much fat from meat as possible.  Cut into 6-8 portions.  Marinate meat in sauce in shallow dish 24 hours in refrigerators or 3-4 hours, covered, at room temperature.  Drain and grill. Let meat rest for 5 minutes before slicing into strips.

Serve with flour tortillas, salsa, sour cream, black beans, lettuce and tomatoes — and like us, with caramelized onions and green peppers.

Inside Cooking Note: During the winter months, I sear the meat in an oven proof skillet and finish it off in the oven.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Heat oven proof skillet over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.  Depending on size of your skillet, you may need 2 pans.  Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to hot pan and sear the steaks well, 2 minutes each side.  Finish cooking in the preheated oven — 5 to 10 minutes, depending upon the level of  doneness desired.  Let steaks rest for 5 minutes before slicing.