Monday, October 24, 2011

Marinade Makes the Difference: Ideas and Chicken Fajitas

We’ve all heard the stories. Literary lightning strikes, and the perfect concept erupts in the writer’s mind fully grown, like armored Athena bursting out of Zeus’s skull. (No, really, that’s her origin story!)

Sure, I’ve been there a time or two. A complete story comes out of nowhere and begs me to write it down. By and large, though, this isn’t how it works. And I would argue that even those fully formed ideas are much improved by plunging them into the mental marinade for a while.

Mental marinade—yeah, I know it sounds like something a zombie chef would use—is the combination of themes, dreams, and schemes that fill up a person’s conscious and subconscious mind. It’s the primordial soup where most brilliant ideas start. So what better place could there be for nurturing a concept into a story, or better yet, for evolving that story you want to tell into the story you need to tell?

Mental marinade. It’s a resource, not an excuse. While one idea soaks, another can find its home on the page. How long you let ideas bathe is up to you. (My work-in-progress has absorbed nearly a decade's worth of creative nutrients.)

Mental marinade. It’s fun to say, and whether you use it for hours, weeks, or years, the flavors it brings out are well worth the wait.

Although I wish I could say today’s recipe is completely mental, it does at least feature marinade. A good fajita is fun, impressive, and versatile—plus you get to add your own toppings! It’s also tough to screw up. Even a mediocre fajita is worth the wait, but with any luck, we can a do bit better than mediocre.

Chicken Fajitas

6 boned chicken breasts
¾ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. chili powder
1 c. lemon juice
6 T. vegetable oil
6 T. wine vinegar

Optional ingredients: (Important—make second batch of seasonings and marinade if cooking veggies, but omit the sea salt.)
2 large bell peppers
2 onions

Cut chicken into strips ¼- to ½-inch thick and put in shallow pan.

Mix dry seasonings and rub evenly over chicken. In a separate bowl, mix lemon juice, oil, and vinegar. Pour over chicken, making sure each piece is completely coated. Marinate for at least 1 hour. (Longer is better.)

If peppers and onions are used, give them the same treatment as the chicken, but omit the sea salt.

Cook on skewers over grill or in pan/skillet over medium heat until cooked through.

Taste before serving, and adjust seasoning according to your preferences. Serve with tortillas and all the fixin’s. But please ignore my pitiful plating. :(

Note: This recipe responds well to alterations (fresh limes, Tabasco, a tablespoon or two of Jack Daniels, etc.).

Let’s get marinating!


  1. Mental marinade, eh? I like it. My debut historical fantasy Zero Time also absorbed more than a decade of "creative nutrients." I look forward to hearing more about your WIP.

    And the fajitas look flavorful and delicious, too. :) Nice post.

  2. 2 things: Mental Marinade is an awesome phrase!! We should start a movement (and credit you, of course). And 2, fajitas are a big hit in this house so am definitely making that!

  3. Oooh yum! I love fajitas - can't wait to make these!

  4. Mental Marinade is an awesome phrase. (I'm so using that.)
    And ohmigosh, twist my arm to make a meal that gives me another excuse to break out the margaritas. :)