chili as microcosim

i’m not entirely sure who told me about the tradition of eating black eyed peas on new year’s to ensure luck in the coming 365.
then again i’m not entirely sure when i realized my love of chili.
(i do not have self regulated entries in the picklepedia, sorry.)
i cannot believe that it started so late as when i had job in high school near the now long vanished ‘exterminator chili’ (available in four varieties: residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural – daily specials and always served with a slab of corn bread to feed elvis) but what i do remember is a glorious day, a moment of beautiful peace and joy when my disturbing superstitious underside, my eternal quest for truly complex and apparently ever increasingly fiery combinations of chili peppers (there is no room in the beer fridge for al the varieties of chili sauces and possibly fatal extractions), my joy of playing with the shiny things in the kitchen, and well….
i don’t think this actually happened at new year’s but i’ll pretend it did for the sake of this.
i had a chili party – my first one.
somehow i had ended up back in st. louis, pretending to be in graduate school.
(actually i was living in my favorite apartment ever – 7047 tulane av., u. city – if anyone out there owns this building now, please love it, it was very good to me)
i had invited many people, some probably weren’t such a good idea but i invited them anyway.
i made three different chilis (a vegetarian white chili i had to do unmentionable things to obtain the recipe for (i think i have unfortunately since lost this – it had clove and cinnamon and the aforementioned black eyed peas and was truly lovely), a red truck stop beef chili – 2 alarm, and a mother-load of black bean five alarm chili with both beef and pork tenderloin).
what happened, either because people were uninterested, away, or i was mistaken about our friendship was me, the chili, lots of beer, and seven of the women from the department i was attempting to care about getting a degree from.
the one ex in the lot made a joke about it being nick’s secret fantasy.
oh, yeah, beautiful women eating my cooking.
i can live with that.
now it’s a tradition.
sometimes for superbowl sunday but always on new year’s.
i make chili.
the past four or five years the chili has been the secondary food, that which sits around and gets munched on while i spend a day or two making the new year’s eve feast – once a mis ordered turducken that weighed in as much as aforementioned ex – but there’s always chili.
and it always has black eyed peas.
this year, my wife and i have moved.
we took the leap form brooklyn to tucson and with the soft landing the circle of friends that i spent three or five days feeding and relaxing with and asking if anyone speaks german of (da!) decided to stay in new york so the feast, the wood burning stove, the excessive amounts of jamison consumed (well maybe not that) stayed with them.
but the chili came with me.
hmm had to work new year’s eve so we decided to play mellow (then again my goal for said feasts is to try to put people into such food comas that even meatwad cannot keep them upright past eleven, boring sob aren’t i?) and plan a ‘hangover helper’ party new year’s day.
a day of chili.
new year’s eve started with trying to find, well, everything.
it took three supermarkets, about thirty miles of driving, and more than a few questions about what i was going to do with eight different varieties of dried chili but i was able to get down to business.
the plan was for two kinds of chili this year.
one a sick concoction of four different kinds of beans, chorizo, ground lamb, seven varieties of chili, corn, and elbow macaroni (hello cincinnati!) the other my every expanding quest to recreate the greatest chicken chili i have ever eaten.
i’m embarrassed to say where it’s from.
really embarrassed.
burritoville.
the only phrases and words i could use to describe their white chicken chili would land this blog on googles disavowed list and i don’t want to do that.
now there are people who think chili is an instantaneous thing, that the flavor ebbs out as you cook.
i disagree.
chili is best the next day.
and sometimes the second day is needed to work out the, ahem, death level.
the cinci chili basically is throw things in a pot.
i keep adding stuff until i get bored. this is possibly dangerous but i figure well, it is chili.
the meat and onions get sauteed but i pretty much rinse the beans put them in the pot with a can or two of whole pealed tomatoes, and as many varieties of dried chilis as i can get my hands on.
being in arizona this last bit has become a significantly more dangerous proposition, and i thought chinatown and the red hook pathmark were enough for me.
this is one of those cases of too much of a good thing.
now i like spicy food.
hmm likes spicy food.
i have giggled when watching friends literally cry when eating my ‘mild’ chili.
i have been known to eat a jar of kim chee by itself for an afternoon snack – the creation of mac and cheese (bunny mac thank you very much) for hmm is incomplete without “chilli and holy basil sauce”.
this however was too much.
well not actually too much, that is reserved for a green papaya salad we had from a china town grocery
we ate it mind you but there were moments when we had to wander around with our mouths open and our tongues hanging out to ensure no part of our mouths came into contact with any other part of our mouths
– but hot enough that the pleasure of spice was lost.
and it only got hotter over night.
eventually a pint of guinness (a.k.a. vitamin g – have you had your daily requirement?) and 1/4 cup or sugar was added.
it’s still hot but now, well, it’s complex and manageable.
i even saw people i’m not related to eating it.
then to the white chicken chili.
i have no idea what i’m doing here.
i don’t even know when to stop with spice so making a reasonable chili is already hard enough but copying a recipe i worship, well, i can do it with pasta sauces and with food cooked over an open flame but this is a bit more.
so i’ll make it my own damn way thank you.
i started by simmering the chicken breasts in lemon juice, tapatilo sauce, chili pequin, clove, and garlic.
i let the chicken stew for at least a couple of hours then i pan grilled it with avocado oil until it dried out a bit and got crispy enough to actually carve instead of just fall apart when thrown into the chili.
black eyed peas, great northern beans, navy beans, mild californian chili powder, pasilla/ancho, pasilla/negro, mild new mexico pods, clove, bay leaves, sugar, chicken broth.
this ended up just marvelous.
there is always tinkering along the way, tasting, playing.
there is no real training save a good nose and and understanding of how flavors work together, or not.
the only rule of cooking is to want to eat it when you’re done.
of course when you have a bunch of people, gallons of chili, pounds of cheese and sour cream to help stave off the fire (and the forbidden rice) you might expect your home’s plumbing to be a bit slow for a few d
ays.
happy new year.
and if anyone knows burritoville’s recipe, i’m sure there are unmentionables that can be arranged.

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