First of all, let it be proclaimed across the land: I love steak. I’m not just fond of it – I really do love it. When I was little and growing up in a home of ten people, most of our meals consisted of lots of hamburger, and chicken and some fish – Italian, Chinese, Mexican, and tons of noodles and such, but the idea of providing steak for all those munching mouths was a high challenge, and a rare occurrence. Mom would ask each of us, when our birthdays rolled around, what we might like to have for our birthday supper. Some of my sisters always wanted hotdogs, and that sort – I always said I wanted “cooked meat.” I didn’t want ground beef, or ham or porkchops or even chicken, or even roast beef– I wanted that stuff that started out as a slab of beef, and only gently was cooked on the grill to make the juices come out. Yep -- cooked beef.
Over the years, I’ve tried most every kind of steak you might provide. Of course, my very favorite is ribeye, with prime rib coming in a close second. Sirloin of course is good, as are T-bones, and their big siblings, porterhouses. I have to say I’m not as enamored with new York strips, since they really taste mostly like roast beef in my opinion, and if I’m going to have steak, then by golly, let’s have steak!
I have to say, strangely enough, that even though I have been living in the Dakotas, where they seem to brag about their great beef, and even in Texas, where steak is supposedly king, the best steaks by far that I have cooked and eaten we purchased in Nashville. Full of flavor, easy to cook, tender and just a treat to eat.
Lately, up here in the Northland, I’ve hunted for steak everywhere. I’ve bought steaks in at least nine different grocery stores and butcher shops – no wait, make that 10 – and there has only been one time in all these past years when the steak was both tender and juicy, and flavorful. All the other times have been like, well, like eating a tough old steak, to tell the truth. I’ve almost felt bad for the cows – if they are going to lose their lives, it should be to create a wonderful meal, and not just barely choking it down.
I used to cook steaks to medium, but realized that they quickly slid into the medium well range as they sat waiting for dinner. So, I switched to medium rare, and sometimes even rare, just to make sure the flavor isn’t burned off. It hasn’t mattered, actually. I have rubbed them with all sorts of special rubs, and with olive oil, and have kept them sealed up in the refrigerator, and left them on the counter for a few hours, thinking that might tenderize them. We bought a “sous vide” appliance, where you vacuum seal the steak in a plastic bag, and then immerse it in warm/hot water, cooking it there until it reaches the perfectly digital temperature of exactly medium rare, and then give a quick sear on both sides on the grill, to make it look good – and it still has all turned out mediocre, at best.
You know, you begin to doubt your own talents and skills when time after time, what you try so hard to do just right becomes “blah” at best. In fact, I must even confess that for a few months this past winter, we had NO steak at all. I kept blaming myself, believing that other little steaks were being grilled all around me and turning out perfectly and tasty. I’ve even been tempted to find my way to Omaha Steaks and have them shipped to me, or even more, a few fancy ranches that will sell their premium steak to you in return for all your money, and your first born grandchild. Tempted, but I’ve avoided that, and continue to buy crummy pieces to become “cooked meat.” I’m not a gambler, but it sure sounds like going to a casino with $500 in your pocket, and leaving with 50 cents remaining.
All of that brings me to today’s steak challenge. It’s Labor Day weekend, and last night, we had brats on the grill, and tomorrow, we are going to cook my special hamburger/pork burgers with a special mixture of spices and such, handed down from my mom’s unwritten recipe – on the grill. With corn on the cob. Today, however, pinched in between those two great meals to wrap up summer, will be the grilling of the steaks. Not a lot of buzz or excitement around the house, to be honest. They just don’t want to get their hopes up, and then end up with shoe leather again.
However, I’m going to bring in a new, untried preparation, and we will see how it goes. In a little while, I’m going to pull out the steaks, rub them with olive oil, and then… sprinkle them with kosher salt, and with BAKING SODA. I know – crazy, right? If you have ever tasted baking soda, you will know that there is a reason they don’t sell baking soda cereal, or baking soda ice cream. It doesn’t taste good at all. But there’s a secret, that I have studied. I’ll put on the olive oil, and then sprinkle on the baking soda, and then sprinkle on kosher salt on top, and put them in the refrigerator for about four hours. Then, I’ll take them out, and do a thorough rinsing of the steaks under water to remove any lingering stuff on the surface.
You see, over those four hours – experts say – the baking soda and salt together act like little tiny coal miners, digging into the tough fibers of the steak, and loosening up all that otherwise connective tissue. The report is that after it’s all rinsed off, the steak itself feels as though it has been aging in a temperature controlled warehouse for 70 days or so, and so is tender and flavorful and ready to be grilled.
This is my plan and my hope. By 6:00 tonight, I expect to be showered with all sorts of praise and adoration from my family for grilling such a great steak, or else, heartache and grief will once again pervade the atmosphere. But I have to try, right? Grilling steak requires an aura of optimism. I say let’s do it, and darn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! I’ll let you know how it turns out…
“Risk” is a funny word – it really means “to run into danger.” Some have said that a life without risk is not a life at all. Now, of course, I’m being a bit facetious to equate grilling some steaks with truly standing in a dangerous or threatening situation, or one that honest requires courage and the willingness to move forward, even when the seas ahead are troubled. Still, with all the different levels of risk present in our lives, it is critical to approach them with awareness, and thoughtfulness. When someone enters into a risky situation in life without a care in the world, they are most likely a fool, since a fool is someone who either is unable or refuses to see the world as it is, and adjust behavior to that world, or else, know that the danger is there.
Our work on this earth and in our lives, is to be faithful. That means we indeed trust in God for help, salvation and peace. It also means, for our part, that we live, again, thoughtfully and intentionally in all parts of our lives. You don’t just toss the steaks on the grill and then walk away. You tend what you are in charge of, and offer care and attention – like you and I should for each part of our lives. Like we should with our relationships, our work, our finances, our future. Trust in God leading you, but at the same time, act trustworthy, as one who waits upon the Lord, and offers our whole heart for God to lead us on the journey. Stay awake – do things on purpose, and you will find a liveliness and a sense of God’s presence in all that you do.
Time pretty soon to prepare the steaks. If nothing else, we can have the corn on the cob today as well…
Word for the day: autoschediasm. Big word – pronounced aw-toe-SKED-ee-azm. It arises out of the Greek language, going as far down as schedious, meaning “casual.” Autoschediazein means “to extemporize, or do something on the spur of the moment.” Autoschediasm, therefore, is the act of improvising something, or doing something offhand and unplanned. If you live an autoschediastic lifestyle, there are always surprises in store, even if they happen to be ones you really hadn’t planned to happen!
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.