It is a sweet sigh of relief that escapes from my lips when the chores on my mid-morning checklist are accomplished. With April now here, there's an inviting warmth to the floral spring breeze as it teases my spirit ever so playfully through the open windows of my kitchen while I work to hurry up and finish what I'm doing and go out and play. You see, this breeze wants to be acknowledged and enjoyed; it's looking for someone to caress, and it longs to be breathed in. Though the cool mornings are thick with a deceptive haze due to the dueling temperatures of the still-cold nighttime and the new warmer days, the sun will not be ignored; it turns up its volume, spreading its contagious joy throughout the sky as the early morning turns to late morning, and warmly smiles down upon all that is below, gathering it up into it's radiating bosom. And now that I've finished the “to-do's” of the early part of my day, I've turned a conscious ear outward to listen for the happenings of the world around me — the neighborhood and the surrounding city. And to my surprise, I find a quiet calmness — a peace — that is gently punctuated with short bursts of the neighbor's children's giggles as they return from a enlightening walk around the neighborhood. I love the sound of that; it takes me back to a time when the most on my mid-morning checklist was a walk with my mamma, too. But for now, at least in my small sliver of the world, there's a stillness. It's only the birds that I can hear passionately communicating via sharp chirps and a running repertoire of mocking sound effects, or the faint, far-off sound of a plane passing by overhead on its way to some other place — sounds I love to hear. The stillness is what is being offered to me in this moment, and I'd be remiss if I didn't steal a little nibble out of it while it lasts, for its flavor is at the peak of perfection.
Early spring inspires a desire for simplicity in life; it inspires appreciation for the simplicity of stillness, of peace. And it inspires a desire for simplicity in the food that I am now beginning to crave — the small bites that burst with rich flavor and amazing color. These bites, these tiny platefuls, can be satisfying as a light meal in and of themselves; or, they can be a tantalizing prelude to a meal that is yet to follow. A small, lightly toasted slice or two of good bread that has been drizzled with olive oil and topped with delicate slices of lightly pink, juicy grilled steak, finished with a burst of color and tangy-ness from a fresh, sunny avocado-lime salsa and the blush of a single grilled cherry tomato that bursts in the mouth, is the perfect accompaniment for enjoying the stillness of a day like today. It is splendidness in its purest form. It is a morsel that I would best enjoy with eyes partly closed and face turned towards the sun as the breeze blows through the wisps of my hair; it is the perfect appetizer, a preview for what the season ahead holds within it.
I am grateful for the handful of minutes, the numbered tick-tocks of the clock, that there are available to me in the form of some stillness and quietness in a day. They are not to be taken lightly, nor should they be breezed-through without their essence — their flavor — captured on my tongue. They are fleeting moments of stillness that are meant for me to briefly enjoy in a way that is uplifting and inspiring to my soul; in a way that will pique my appetite for the main course that is life and all that life's various days contain. So for now, I'll enjoy listening to the adamant chirps from the birds all around as they work to build their nests, and the intermittent giggles of the little ones down the street as they play outside, and steal just a little bite out the stillness of this particular moment.
Taste what's good and pass it on.
Grilled Steak and Avocado-Lime Salsa Crostini with Grilled Cherry Tomatoes
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(Makes 12 crostini, serves about 4)
¾ - 1 pound (roughly) flank steak
½ teaspoon lime zest
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
• Pinch cayenne pepper
• Olive oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 cloves garlic, divided use, 1 pressed through garlic press and 1 left whole
1 French baguette, sliced on the bias into 12 slices
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
• Avocado-Lime Salsa (recipe below)
-Marinate the flank steak by placing it into a large bowl or onto a large platter, and adding the lime zest, the cracked black pepper, about ½ teaspoon salt, the ground cumin, the pinch of cayenne pepper, about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the lime juice and the 1 clove of pressed garlic, and rub the marinade into the meat; allow it to sit for about 20 minutes while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
-To toast the baguette slices, drizzling them lightly with some olive oil and sprinkle over a pinch of salt and black pepper; toast the slices by holding each slice over the flame of your gas stove with a pair of tongs for several moments, until lightly golden and slightly “charred”; repeat until all sliced are toasted and charred (or, if you don't have a gas stove, just toast the slices by placing them onto a foil-lined baking sheet and into a 400° oven for a few minutes until golden-brown); next, rub the whole garlic clove over each slice of the toasted baguette to gently perfume it; set the slices aside for a moment.
-Prepare the Avocado-Lime Salsa, cover with plastic and hold in the fridge until ready to serve over crostini.
-Grill the steak by placing a large grill pan over high heat; once the pan is very hot, add a drizzle of olive oil to it, and add the flank steak in; grill the steak for about 4 minutes on the first side and about 3-4 minutes on the second side, for medium-rare; place the grilled steak onto a large plate or platter (leave the grill pan on), and allow it to stand for about 10 minutes before slicing; after 10 minutes, slice the flank steak very thinly on the bias, against the grain for a tender result; set the meat aside for a moment.
-Grill the cherry tomato halves by adding them, cut-side down, into the hot grill pan for just about 30 seconds, or until lightly charred and softened; place them onto a plate to hold until assembly.
-To assemble, add several thin slices of the grilled flank steak to each charred crostini, then top with a spoonful of the Avocado-Lime Salsa, and one half of a grilled cherry tomato; sprinkle with an additional twist of fresh cracked black pepper and salt, to garnish; serve the remaining charred cherry tomato halves in a little ramekin on the side, and serve the remainder of the Avocado-Lime Salsa in a little ramekin on the side, as well, if someone would like extra; serve 3-4 crostini per person.
Avocado-Lime Salsa ingredients:
1 ½ avocado, diced very finely
¼ red onion, diced very finely
1 jalapeno, cored and seeded, and diced very finely
½ cup cilantro leaves (loosely packed), finely chopped
1 ½ tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
• Olive oil
• Cracked black pepper
-Place all ingredients through the lime zest into a bowl, and drizzle in about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and a few pinches of salt and pepper; gently fold the ingredients together, and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.