So, a while back, I was on what seemed like an eternal treadmill, progressing towards an unending and featureless landscape of anxiety. Sounds like Wednesday to you? Yeah, me too, most of the time.
It’s not the only constant in my life; there are always high points and distractions, but it is all too frequent that I find myself gripped by the thought that what looks like a stable and pleasant existence from the outside resembles an imaginary Jenga tower with no safe moves left on the inside. Like the WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) in War Games said: “Interesting game. The only winning move is not to play.” But it then suggests another game which doesn’t work for me. I don’t play a lot of metaphorical chess, that is not how my mind works.
I was particularly stressed about my job, my kids, and my finances. The first because I was attempting a nearly impossible task against active obstacles, the second because of separation anxiety and worry for their future, and the third because who doesn’t? Whisked into all of this was the minutiae and the essentials (for which, by the way, it seriously bothers me that there is not a word like “maxutiae”) of everyday life, such as speeding tickets and dentist appointments. I handle stress about as well as many people handle a parallel parking spot, but instead of trying many, many times to properly deal with it, I am more of a “drive around the block twenty times ignoring its existence without finding another place to park” kind of guy.
I feel it physically but don’t mention it. I may miss things and hope they go unnoticed, and I just accept the insomnia and mood that comes with it. Don’t try this at home, kids, it is not for everyone.
In any case, a few weeks back, I was working day and night and receiving little to no feedback or information to help with the progress of the task, and I was also mentally wrung out by the rest of the bits and pieces, and I realized that my wife’s birthday was coming up. As she is very important to me, and also the primary cog in my plan to combat stress and remain human, (keeping the imminent morose werewolf–clown transformation at bay,) I wanted to do something for her. Besides helping arrange a low-key day with a nice dinner, as she has always enjoyed, I also wanted to make her some homemade chili.
I’m a decent cook, and one of her favorite meals that I make, possibly only second to my lasagna, is chili. I couldn’t do it on her actual birthday, because I was working that night and barely able to slip out to the restaurant for the planned dinner. But that weekend, I procured the ingredients, and ensured that I had some time for chili-making.
It was actually really tasty. The fact that I had gotten something done from beginning to end and received only appreciative noises as a result, suddenly lifted a bit of the cloud. I felt better for a number of hours. Ergo, chili can make you feel better. Or at least me. Also, it’s surprisingly nutritious, and definitely comforting and warm.
So how do you do it? I don’t know how you do, but here is how I do:
Serves me and my wife, repeatedly (second–day chili is tasty.) Or 6-8 regular people.
- Green Onions (about 4-6)
- Garlic (10 or so cloves)
- Kidney Beans (2 cans, rinse before using)
- Poblano or Anaheim Peppers (4)
- Jalapeno Peppers (2, optional. Also, you can use even hotter ones if you dare.)
- Ground Meat (2/12 pounds half pork, half beef is what I do, but you can use emu, tofu, fruit bat, or polar bear as well.)
- Shallots (1-2 to taste. Or a small onion. Whatever, no big.)
- Ground Cumin (1T)
- Chili Powder (1T)
- Paprika (1t)
- Sugar (1T)
(as an aside, these first four spices are what makes up any taco seasoning you buy at the store…)
- Salt (2t)
- Pepper (2t)
- Tabasco (to taste)
- Chicken Stock concentrate (4T)
- Water or Chicken Broth (1/2 C)
- Crushed Tomatoes (2 big cans)
- Cheddar Cheese (Heaps) and Sour Cream (Big Dollop) and the green part of the green onions (sprinkle) for garnish.
- Pour a large drizzle of oil into a big stockpot.
- Slice the green onions as thinly as you can, possibly imagining that you are a prep cook at a sushi place that would be fired if the green onions in the miso are too thick. Keep the green parts and the white parts separate for much the same reason.
- Core and seed the poblano peppers, and then dice them into 1/2” squares. For the hotter peppers, if you’re using them, dice into 1/4” squares.
- Mince the garlic. Pretend you are on Top Chef while doing this. Tom Colicchio is watching, so make a lot of noise with the knife.
- Mince the shallot(s) as well.
- Heat the oil to medium high, and cook the shallots until they get translucent, about 4 minutes or so.
- Put in the meat and brown it for about 6 minutes, or until it is fully cooked. Add the cumin, chili powder, and paprika while the meat is browning and stir to combine.
- Salt and pepper the meat liberally while it is browning, don’t be a wuss. Separate out the shallots and… (joking, skip that part).
- Remove the meat from the pot, with the drippings (and shallots) into a bowl for later.
- In the same pot, pour another large drizzle of oil and add the peppers, garlic, and onion whites. Cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring frequently. Or tossing, which requires that you pretend to be Anthony Bourdain. Again season with salt and pepper. If you are pretending you are Bourdain, drink a beer during this step.
- Add the stock concentrates, beans, tomatoes, sugar, and the water or broth into the pot and stir. Bring to a boil and reduce heat slightly to simmer for 5 minutes or so until it thickens slightly. Again with the salt and pepper. Also, if you are me, this is the “just can’t leave well enough alone” time of the process, so add the Tabasco, and anything else that you may want to personalize this with. I will be the one cackling wildly between beer swigs.
- Add the meat and drippings back in. Fend off the lookie-loos who have started to arrive and ask you what smells so good. Simmer for at least 5-10 more minutes.
- That’s really it, except for serving. Garnish with a huge handful of the cheese, a generous dollop of sour cream, and a sprinkle of onion greens. Also, you can put whatever else you want, because chili is freedom, man, don’t let anyone trample your dreams!
- Just sayin.