Smokey and Snowball, my forty year friends

Another silly story about stuffed animals, who happen to be my oldest friends in the world, Smokey and Snowball

A mismatched pair
of grizzled old bears
Tell stories, tall and long
Of days gone by
Where adventure was nigh
With occasional breaks for a song

Smokey came first
Those days were the worst
Before old Snowball got here
But once he arrived
It wasn’t contrived
That both let out a huge cheer

From that moment hence
And every point since
They were an inseparable pair
Through 40 odd years
And laughter and tears
They were Smokey and Snowball the bears

Now they spin yarns
In homes and in barns
To anyone willing to listen
They tell of the past
And how it comes fast
As their eyes start to glisten

Of loss and of friends
And scars that won’t mend
Their stories roll out like a river
They meander and bend
But by the end
The moral will always deliver.

Seek love and not money
Adventure not fame
Be kind and be caring
And you won’t be the same
The journey and time
Will change you, it’s true
But known in your heart
Just what makes you you.

Smokey and Snowball are my oldest friends.  I have had them since I was a little boy.  They helped me through surgeries and the random crises of youth.  They were there when I was teen and a twenty something.  They were there as I went back to school and advanced my career in my thirties.  They were there for all the moves, thousands of miles.  They were there for heartbreak and misery.  They were there for moments of joyous exuberance.  A steady presence, reminding me that I was never alone.  Now they are old.  They are dusty from years on a shelf.  But that dust is magical.  Pull them off the shelf and give them a snuggle.  Poof.  A rush of positive neurochemicals immediately course through me.  It is more than nostalgia, for by-gone youth.  They are family.  They are the family that I can’t hug because they are too far away.  They remind me that the world is full of good things and full of good people who love me, even on the darkest days.  Through the years they have absorbed all manner of tears.  Tears that have crystalized into hope, and joy, and happiness, and love.  Absorbed for the days when I have none.  If there was a fire, they are the only objects I would save.  I have a cabinet full of trinkets, mementos, and nostalgic do-dads, the history of my life and travels.  It could all turn to dust.  My lego collection could melt to a single acrid pool of plastic.  As long as Smokey and Snowball are safe.  They are my personal talisman.  My connection to the world far away.  Connection to far-flung family and friends.  To emotions I can’t (or won’t) emote.  To words I cannot say. 

Grinny Frog, Brownie Bear, Baa’, Bob Beaver

This is something I want to pass on to Katie.  Her first gift from me, months before she was born, was a teddy bear (Brownie).  Before she was born I would find myself giving Brownie hugs, just to imbue him with some innate level of love.  I also recognize that this is ridiculous.  This isn’t Toy Story, inanimate objects do not have feelings or memories.  I also know that Kate will choose her own way to connect and remember.  It might be Brownie or it could be Toothpick or BlueBear, or even Grinny Frog.  Or it could be none of those things.  She will be her own person.  But just in case… she has Brownie.

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Problems of a Rambling Mind

I find myself overwhelmed with problems.  Large and small.  In and out of my control. Manageable and unmanageable.  Simple and complex.  It overwhelms my traditional to-do list approach to problem solving.  Actually, that is not entirely true.  What happens is that the to-do lists get made and then large problems/issue loom and make the small problems seem insignificant and make accomplishing even small tasks seem frivolous without working to resolve the larger problems.  The larger problems/issues are so large that there is no way to resolve them as an individual.  Thus inaction.

Thus, I feel I have written and erased these very thoughts perhaps twenty or more times.  Like a cycle of events occur that overwhelm me, then I fret about it, then I think of ways to write myself out of it, then I write some things down, I re-read those things, realize how supercilious those things were, go back to trying to accomplish small things, realize small things sum to larger things, realize that my large changes don’t actually have any effect outside of my small sphere of influence, go back to being overwhelmed.

However, the nice thing about being introspective is that I am aware of the cycle, even as it is occurring.  I can break out.  Even my own activity-anxiety-inactivity cycles can be broken.  Moreover, introspection brings perspective.  These cycles do not really reoccur, they are just new cycles born of new events.  Sure, there is carry-over from unresolved things.  Sure, some things are beyond my direct control.  Nevertheless, I ride through it.  Roll the cycle forward, ever forward.  Progress.

Today I list.  List the problems big and small, short and tall.  List them so that I can see them.  List them so that they are out of my head.  List them so they no longer swirl, intermixed.  List them so that I can visualize the steps to complete/conquer them.  List them so I that I can prioritize.  List them so that I can plan further.  List them so that I can help articulate my issues to others without dumping on them a complex word salad of thoughts, emotions, ideas.  List them so that I can look back and laugh or cry or bemusedly smile at the thing that I thought in the past were hard to handle.

I’ve kept a notebook of lists forever.  I have them all.  I look back and see.  They are the progression of maturity and adulthood.  Of wonderful ideas, crazy thoughts.  Of childlike dreams. And sometimes lists of things I should pack for a trip.  But even that reminds me of the trip. Of the places I’ve been and the people.  That the world is a big place and I’ve much to explore.  That I have much that I want to share with those closest to me, especially Sara and Katie.

So thus, end the period of being overwhelmed.  Thus begins the period of making lists and finding ways to bring those lists to fruition.  Soon I will march on.  Some will be tiny victories won: at my work desk, others against the raging horde of wild onions growing in my yard.  Others will seem small but build into a momentum that can change the course of history (ok maybe a bit of hyperbole, but I can hope).

Also I noted that this is a ramble, conceived in the Rambler while drinking from a Rambler, and posted on The Ramble.  That is a lot of rambling.  Plus Sara’s high school mascot was the Rambler.  Which is an additional, but unconnected layer of rambling.  The end.before-42

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Christmas Early, Christmas Late, Christmas Right on Time

Christmas Early, Christmas Late, Christmas Right on Time
Our families are important things
and visit them we must.
Christmas early, Christmas late
Christmas thrice for us!

We arrange our schedules as best we can
between thanksgiving and the new year
Making time to travel and to gather
all whom we hold dear.

And when that time arrives each year
it’s time to prep the car.
For I know the time has come
to travel near and far.

Over the rivers and through the woods
is ever quaint in song.
To reach loved ones we must traverse
a road that over long

We pack and prep and wrap and fret,
the weather ever changing.
All the stuff we want to bring
requires rearranging.

These last few years our Christmas trek
have been an L of sorts
One leg we travel North to South
then East to West we cavort.

And even though we travel far,
the trip is always joyous.
For we know at journeys end
families love will buoy us

First travel north to Wisconsin
With snow cold, and white
Hand knit stockings hung and filled
All merry and bright

We dine with our families
And chat with old friends
And Bentleyville lights
That never seem to end.img_9497
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Then we travel south to home
arrive at midnights chime
Only to head out eastbound
in a few weeks time

At home it’s Christmas early
For Sara, Kate, and me
We share our family presents
Piled under our own tree.

Then Cincinnati and my parent’s house
For our Christmas Day
With babies, parents, siblings, and spousesimg_9587
Aunts, uncles, cousins join the fray

We celebrate in joyful chaos,
that is loving and is kind
We stay up late to celebrate
Santa sure won’t mind.

Then comes Christmas morning
the wrapping paper flies
as jolly toddlers unwrap the things
that no money buys.

A few short days later
Our car packed to the gills
We are traveling home again
With our holiday fill

Long hours in the car
But we travel well
Happy to be home once more
with Christmas tales to tell

The next day Sara’s folks arrive
For our Christmas late
A few more terffic presents
And fun dinners on the plate

We had Christmas early
And late and on time.
With many joyous miles behind us
We end this rhyme.

Katie lines up her new toys – lots of wheels!

Opening presents is a fast moving operation!

Sara, Katie, Betsy, and Julie going into Christmas Mass

 

 

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Toothpick, the burrito loving bear

toothpickToothpick the bear
loved burritos. It’s fair
to say she’d eat them every day.
She liked them with chicken
and all of the fixins,
but she’d eat them any old way.

Despite all the calories
she is still thin, it seems
Toothpick’s an exercise fan.
She likes to go run
for health and for fun
and burritos are part of her plan

With all the food groups,
better than fruit loops,
Burritos are the perfect dinner.
Add extra veggies,
and nacho cheese wedgies
a tortilla wrapped treat is a winner
She eats a variety,
of foods in her diet. She
uses some spices to flavor it.
Toothpick, she knows,
as far as food goes,
cannot eat only her favorites.
She eats healthy snacks
that her mommy packs
wrapped in foil and tucked in her lunch
Toothpick will wait
for a later date
And dream of burritos to munch!

Posted in Christmas, Creativity, Eating, Eating Healthy, Poetry on the Blog, Stuffy Stories, Writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Unabashed love for grape flavored caffeine

I don’t drink coffee.  I don’t really like hot tea.  I need caffeine.  To get the requisite amount of caffeine to fire up the old thought engine I drink water flavored with packets of magical powders.  They aren’t really magical, they just contain caffeine and some flavoring.  They also reported contain “vitamins” but I’m not holding my breath.

I found them about 8 years ago in a grocery store in Waco (where I was living).  At the time, I was getting my daily dose of caffeine through energy drinks (2 a day).  I had graduated from Mountain Dew to the energy drinks in an effort to modulate the sugar to caffeine ratio.  I never really liked diet soda, they were always to sweet in a weird way for my taste.  Also for some reason I could never drink them quickly.  While a mountain dew or energy drink I could down 12-20 ounces in single gulp, a diet soda required sipping. And the weird after taste.  So after two months of two energy drinks a day, I had amassed quite a collection of cans. (ASIDE: for some reason I collected all the energy drink cans on a shelf in my office cubby, kind of like a shrine to sugar, caffeine, and wasted money.)  Being a grad student (AKA very poor), I looked for cheaper alternatives to the $4-6 a day energy drink habit.  I tried hot tea for a while.  I was fine, but required more time and forethought then I could usually muster on a typical morning.  I tried a daily vitamin that had a energy boost included (ie lots of caffeine).  That worked well until I mixed it with an energy drink.  I will tell you that I was awake in class that morning.  It was all I could do to sit still.  I was still buzzing like 9 hours later.  Then I slept for like 12 hours and had a terrible headache.  The pills were out.  This lead me to the grocery store in search of the alternative.  In the section with the Crystal Light drink flavor packets (next to the Koolaide) I found them.  Packets of drink flavoring with caffeine added.  They were low in sugar (only 5-10 calories per packet).  I decided to given them a try.  Turns out they were not bad.  Well, they weren’t good, but having spent an extended time drinking terrible tasting energy drinks (eg. Red bull with its unique but terrible taste that all but encourages you to drink it in one quick swallow) these were not bad.  The first ones I tried were like “berry” and “morning citrus”.  Berry tasted like bad fruit punch, but the morning citrus was not unlike tang.  They became my route for daily caffeine exposure.  Over the last 8 years or so, I’ve tried just about every flavor I could find.  From mango-pineapple (or peach), to wild berry, to strawberry-tangerine, to dragon fruit (which taste suspiciously like fruit punch), to pomegranate-lemonade, to cherry-limeaide, to blueberry acai, I’ve tried them all, multiple times.  But the one I like best (and would drink exclusively) is grape.  This should come as no surprise to anyone who has read my blog (and my homage to grape flavored soda – Gone Grapey Gone).  I love the flavor purple.  From Otter Pops to soda, I love the fake grape flavor.  Finding Grape Crystal Light packets with caffeine was like a magical day.  So while I try to mix up my purchases I tend to focus on the grape ones.

Another nice thing was that these favor packets were way cheaper than soda, energy drinks.  They were comparable (if not cheaper) than individual tea bags.  And since I hate coffee anyway there was no cost to outweigh there.  Originally the costs were around $2 for 10 packets.  The Crystal Light versions started to creep up in price from 2 to 2.50 to 3.15 (now).  Walmart and Kroger store brands were just as good so I would buy them (Walmart’s ran about $1.74 and Kroger’s about $2 or cheaper when there was a sale).  But still I love the Grape.  For a while only Crystal Light had the grape.  Then I found the Walmart version (Great Values).  It was grape-tastic.  I would stock up on them any time I found myself at a Walmart.  Then the unthinkable happened, I couldn’t’ find them at Walmart anymore.  Sure, I could still get 5 in a twenty pack of mixed flavors, but who wants to drink 5 pomegranate-lemonades just to get 5 grapes.  So I started to just get the Crystal Light grape.  But its price was getting higher.  I know that $3.15 is not much different from $1.74, but when you go through 2-3 boxes a week, the price difference adds up.

Some time over the last year I discovered that it was taking me more drinks to keep my energy up.  The added drinks (I mostly mix the packets with a liter of water in my own reusable bottle to make myself/the environment feel better) had a very noticeable side effect, a full bladder and lots of trips to the restroom.  Worried that either I was becoming desensitized to the caffeine or I was having some other physiological problem, I cut down on the amount of water.  I doubled up on the packets, thinking that if I decreased the volume I would pee less.  This did help, but it lead me to read the packaging.  To my horror inconvenience, I realized that somewhere along the line Crystal Light had lowered the caffeine content of each flavor packet, by half.  The packets went from 120 mg caffeine to 60mg.  This was a travesty.  I needed twice as many packets (at a higher price) to get the same dosage.  HOW COULD THEY DO THIS TO ME>>> THEY HAVE TAKEN GRAPE AWAY!!!  Crystal Light was weak sauce.  Great Value Grape Energy was nowhere to be found.  I was forced to switch to my backup flavor, tangerine-strawberry (Kroger Brand).  Much to my caffeinated delight I discovered that Kroger had no such concerns about me having too much caffeine and produced packets that contained 160 mg of caffeine.  This was good (caffeine/oz was up) and bad (not grape flavor).  And so things remained until yesterday…

I was perusing a local Walmart (a different one from my normal location) when I found the motherlode: 5 boxes of full strength (120mg caffeine) Grape flavor packets.  While it is dumb to be excited about something so mundane, if something makes your morning routine better in any marginal way, it is cause for celebration.  I did a little happy dance, which Kate found quite amusing.  So now my desk is fully stocked with caffeine packets (somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 packets mixed between Grape and Tangerine-Strawberry.  This should be a productive time period for me (or at least not lag time).

grape-caffeine

As a note the LD50 for caffeine in an adult human is 150 mg/kg (rats are 192mg/kg).  At my current weight I would have to eat 57 grams of caffeine to receive a lethal dose.  That would be somewhere around 500 packets of favoring.  Also as a note to my mother or other folks concerned with the health effects of too much caffeine; on a typical day I drink two liter of water (each infused with drink packet).  This amounts to about 240-320 mg of caffeine (depending on package dosing). Some days I drink 3 (360-480 mg caffeine).  This might seem like a lot until you realize that two 20oz cups of coffee (standard coffee) contain around 600 mg of caffeine.

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Silly Poems about Stuffed Animals

Sometimes when I am just sitting my bed listening to Kate through the monitor I hear her talking to her stuffy friends.  When it is quiet I think about them talking back to her.  I imagine them with their own feelings and personality.  It makes me laugh. It makes me feel good.  Sometimes, when the world seems grey, it is helpful to think in the voice of a stuffed animal.  Maybe someday Kate will read these and say “OMG, Dad is so lame”, but secretly think (oh, I remember all those guys, they made me feel good and loved).

The B Team

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Bug, Brownie, B’aa, and Bob – The B Team

Protect our charge, keep safe and sound
We are the Bs, we’re duty bound
At first just Brownie Bear was there
To soothe her fears when she is scared
Then later on came Beaver Bob
Providing comfort is his job
Then Baa’ the Lamb arrived on scene
Protecting from the unforeseen
A frog named Bug the last B in
He calms her down, when dreams do spin
In the morning with duty done
The Bs it seems are lots of fun
To laugh and joke and play with flair.
But when she sleeps they’ll be right there
With Baa’ and Bug and Bob and Brown
Four Bs stand watch while she lays down
Sweet dreams our charge, sleep well and sound
The Bs are here, with love we’re bound

Ely Bear
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Our friend named Ely ventures forth,
Among the lakes and trees up North.
He travels through the great Northwoods
Catching fish like a bear should.
Always exploring things, he’s bound
to kayak, swim and romp around.
Scruffy and rough, he’s brash and bold.
His biggest problem: he’s always cold
His bear fur coat seems not enough
To keep him warm when weather rough.
A fleece down vest, a trappers hat
Keep Ely warm, no doubt to that.
He tromps around, he picks berries,
Looking quite weird in hat and fleece.
A bear must do what bears must do
to keep a ramblin’ all day through
It keeps him warm, he does not care
Now in comfort, he can be bear.

Philben Bear20160320_170319003_ios-3

Long of arm and loopy of gait,
Philben the Bear is always late.
Try as he will, try as he might
It never seems to work just right
Set plans early, only to find
No matter what, He’s still behind
Run, running, run, all the way there
Still he is late, to his despair.
His friends never worry
They know he’ll appear
All huffy and furry
And full of good cheer.
With long arms that juggle.
He’s jolly and fun
On time is his struggle.
But the party’s begun

Turtle Monkey

20160320_154042737_ios-2In a mysterious swamp
down by the sea
Lives a friendly little chap,
the TurtleMonkey
He’s a little skittish
here’s how you tell
He scampers up the branch
and hides inside his shell
Swinging, jumping, swinging
in a mangrove tree.
Watch that TurtleMonkey
swim beneath the sea.

Clacky Pegicorn

20160413_042805918_ios-2Clarisse is a pegicorn,
about her fate she is forlorn.
She’s not like mom and not like dad,
a fact that makes her o’ so sad.
Her wings are small and not robust,
not like Mom the Pegasus.
Her fur is pink, She’s short on horn,
Not like Dad the unicorn.
Her wings they clack when she does run,
the others tease and have their fun.

Clacky Clacky Pegicorn, the biggest misfit ever born.

And so she cries and plays alone,
wishing, wishing to be all grown.
Oh Mama mama why am I this way,
why won’t the others let me play.
Her momma says we love you dear,
and of those kids have no fear.
They’re narrow minded silly twits,
you have heart, and guts, and wits.
The world is full of friends for you,
to seek them out is what to do.
Friends that love just who you are,
find those friends and you’ll go far.
So Clarisse left the foaling field,
and many friends her search did yield.
A loyal band of different kinds,
the one’s that easy friendship finds.
Bears and sloths and dogs and cows,
they greeted her with sacred vows.
Respect and love that’s what we do,
We are friends, now you are too.
The friends than ran, the friends they played,
they sought adventure day by day.
Her wings still rattle when she runs,
her friends don’t care about that none.
Just call me Clacky, I own that name,
her head held high and without shame.
And with her friend she runs about,
above the clack you hear them shout.

CLACKY, CLACKY PEGICORN, truest friend that’s ever born.

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You can’t f#$& up chili. Making Chili

Here is the thing….  you can’t fuck up chili.  By you I mean the universal you, not the specific you who in fact could do something stupid or by accident and fuck it up bad.  It doesn’t really require a lot of cooking skills, just the ability to open cans and stir.  It can be as simple or as complicated as you like.  Chili can be a can of beans, some chili powder, and ground beef.  Or it can be 30 ingredients, each with their own cooking needs.  But in general, chili is some simple stuff.  I like it because it is forgiving.  If you forget an ingredient in your cookies, you might end up with inedible garbage.  Forget something in chili, it is just a new taste direction.  Not spicy enough – add some hot sauce, too spicy – cheese or sour cream.  Don’t like onions, don’t add any.  Love beans – add as many as you want.  A vegetarian – add tofu.  Prefer chicken or port to beef, no problem – substitute away.  Shot a deer, have some extra meat – looks like chili time.  Vegetable garden over produce on tomatoes or squash – yep, it is time for chili.

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Ingredients for chili

I love the idea of chili as free-form cooking.  Go the store with an idea, buy some ingredients, raid the pantry, raid the spice rack, check out what’s in the freezer.  Once you’ve assembled what you think should be in it you make a plan and go for it.  Sometimes, you change plans right in the middle (chili forgives).  Sometimes you run out of a certain spice (it’s cool, we’ll just have slightly different taste profile).  Sometimes you are drinking and think it would be good to add beer or wine, no problem.  I don’t follow a recipe, I just do.  I’ve never looked in a book to see how to make chili, I just started adding shit until…. BOOM CHILI.  Now after about 20 years of doing it I do have some preferences, some baseline ingredients that I always start with.  But that can vary from batch to batch, mood to mood, or the degree of adventure I’m seeking in the creation.  Today’s chili is kind of the basic model, what I like to eat.  In the past I’ve done some different things.  I’ve added apples and carrots for a bit of sweetness.  I’ve added jicama just to see what would happen (small pieces added a nice crunch and good texture and soaked up a lot of flavor).  I’ve added potatoes (which end up breaking down during the long cook but helped create a rib-sticking thickness that was pretty good.  I’ve added every pepper I could find, from bell to Anaheim to habanero to jalapeno to more exotic peppers that you can only find at places like Jungle Jim’s or that weird booth at the farmers’ market.  I’ve made it white (tomato free – although I did add tomatillos).  I’ve used every type of meat and cut I could find.  My favorite was a barnyard chili where I used chicken (ground and breast meat), beef (ground and chopped roast), pork (ground and shredded loin) and lamb (ground).  It turned out pretty good, just like most of the other chilies I have made.  I mostly stick with adding things I would eat on its own.  If I don’t like the taste or texture I’m pretty sure that adding it into my chili isn’t going to make it better.  Luckily I’m not that picky.  Mostly things I won’t add include leafy greens and anything pickled.  I find the act of making chili fun and rewarding.  Cleaning up less so, but I try to keep the pots and pans to minimum now to reduce the dish load.  I also love to eat chili, it is among my favorite foods, something you will know if you see me after eating chili as I will inevitably be wearing some.  So without further ado here is how I make chili.

Start with the fresh ingredients.

2 green pepper
2 jalapenos
4 serrano peppers
1 yellow onion
1 red onion
4 cloves of garlic (or it could be a shallot – it was just sitting on the counter)
Handful of orange cherry tomatoes

Prep the veggies first.  I am currently on a chunky chili kick so I like to have my veggies in a rough chop.  I cut them into strips to feed them into the food processer with the slicer set for pretty thick chunks.  I could have gotten more consistently sized piece by hand chopping, but it takes a bit longer in the prep.  The all the peppers, half the onions, 1 clove of garlic, and a handful of the tomatoes went through the food processor.  The jalapenos and bells were chopped in fourths and the seeds removed.  Serranoes were chopped into small pieces.  The onions were chopped into rough quarter (just small enough to fit into the mouth of the processor).  The remaining onions were given a rough chop and the three cloves of garlic chopped fine.

Start cooking.  Put the food processor veggies a big stock pot (this is what ever vessel is going to be your chili pot).  Turn heat to medium low.  I added a splash of olive oil (to prevent sticking) and let them sweat with the lid on for a 20 minutes.  Then I added a beer and some red wine (because I had them).  It is now time for the canned stuff and spices.  I added.

1 can of crushed tomatoes
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1 can of diced tomatoes with olive oil and garlic
1 can of whole tomatoes
1 can each of black beans, dark red kidney beans, and great northern (white) beans
1 jar of roasted red peppers that I found in the pantry

Chili powder
Cumin
Slap-Ya-Mama Cajun seasoning (also has salt)
Hungarian paprika (but really the ethnicity of the paprika is up to you)
Cayenne pepper
Garlic powder

I don’t measure any of the spices. I just add them and taste.  If I like it good, but if not I can always add more.  Think of this as the starting set.  Added to the veggies it gets the spices melding in to the mix.  Really at the end it is going to be more chili powder and potentially more cumin that get added.

The beans and the roasted peppers were drained and rinsed.  The cans of tomatoes go in the pot juices and all.  I stir it all up and add the spices.  I also add any remaining cherry tomatoes whole (they add bit of pop later if any remain whole through cooking).

In a large skillet I melted some butter at medium heat and added the remaining onions.  These are cooked till they are just about totally brown (mmm delicious Maillard reactions).  At that point I added the remaining garlic (with a little more butter).  The garlic is sautéed until it is just turning golden.   This pan of golden brown deliciousness is added to proto-chili mix in the stock pot.

In the same skillet (since it is already hot and dirty) I add 1 pound of 90/10 ground beef along with some additional cumin and chili powder.  I mostly get the beef browned (but it is ok if there is some pink still – it will be a long cook so it will be done by the end).  Once the ground beef is browning I prepped the bottom round roast (it was less expensive per pound than ground beef).  I get a whole meat chunk (AKA a roast) rather than stew beef so that I control where it came from and how it is chopped up.  I trimmed a good bit of fat of the back side of the roast.  I chop it into what will eventually be bit size pieces (1 inch cubes or smaller – they shrink during cooking).  By this time the ground beef is done and I transfer it to the chili pot and mix it in.  I leave the remaining fat and spices in the skillet and turn the heat to high medium.  Once the skillet sizzles I add the roast beast chunks.  The purpose here is not to cook them fully, but rather to brown them, inducing a Maillard reaction.  Once they are browned on one side (4-5 minutes) I flip them to the other side.  Once they are brown on both sides, into the chili pot they go.  I then used about ½ a beer and some red wine to scrape up the brown bits from the skillet and add that all to the chili pot.

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The famed Amazonian Chili spoon of lore.

I give it some vigorous stirring with my chili spoon.  Yes, I have a special wooden spoon I use for chili – it was hand crafted of Amazonian hard wood (where I bought it).  As a side note and also an homage to why I use a spoon from the Amazon for cooking chili, it was on a trip to the Amazon where I had the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten (outside of the Mammer Jammer in college but that is another story).  It was this weird small purple chili.  It was just growing in someone’s garden in a little village.  To the gardener’s delight I tried one.  At first it was sweet, but then heat built and built and built.  And twenty-year-old Jason was not going to be defeated by the chili.  I acknowledged its heat and tastiness (it really did have a great flavor underneath the heat), but I did demure from eating any more.  Anyway back to making chili. 20160712_025242529_iOS

I let everything cook for about 4 hours on low.  It is just at a simmering boil for most of this time.  It will bubble up, and needs to be stirred on occasion to prevent any hotspots from burning.  Each time I stir I taste a bit (after the first hour so I know the meat is cooked).  At this point I added about 2 cups of water and about half a palm-full of kosher salt (maybe a palm full for you as I have large paws).  Error on the side of less salt always.  I added more spice to taste.  For me this was adding more cumin and chili powder.

After about 4 hours you can eat as everything should be melded together into a chunky red chili.  Eat how you like; I prefer a bowl with a dollop of sour cream or shredded cheddar cheese.  This will make a shit load of chili, so be prepared with some storage containers and/or a lot of folks to share it with.

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Chili is almost done.

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This is my favored degree of chunkiness.

 

Here are some notes I can give you.

Don’t be afraid, chili is very forgiving.  Add spices liberally, there are lots of ingredients to absorb those big flavors, and if it gets too spicy add some more water or just make sure you have some sour cream for the bowls.

About the only thing that is irreversible is salt.  Too much salt can mess it up, so just salt to taste.  It is easiest to start with none and just add later to taste.  Salt integrates very quickly into a mixture.  Salt also comes from the packaged and can foods.  Use low sodium canned products – it is way better to add your own salt later than have it creep up on you from the canned goods.

There is no shame in prepackaged chili spice mixes.  For a long time, this is how I would start my spice mixture.  Carrol Shelby is a good one and most grocery stores will have a variety.  They can save some time and reduce the guess work in forming the chili base.  They might also have directions on the package (this excludes something called Cincinnati Chili which is whole other animal and I’m sure someday another blog post).  Feel free to ignore them and do what you want how you want.  If you go this route, keep some additional chili powder on hand in case the mix isn’t enough.

This is a preference step, prepare the peppers and onions however you like.  Just know that the finer the chop the more they will disappear/be integrated in the chili.

If the chili is too watery you can do things like adding a bit of corn starch or masa flour or roux.  These things take some time to bloom, but do a good job of thickening the chili.  Beans also thicken chili as they break down over the long cooking time.  The other option is to let the chili cook longer and the water boil off.

Tomato can juice is good for chili, bean can juice is not – rinse the beans.

Chili can be a 30-minute thing or a 10-hour thing.  Just remember that it takes a while to build a depth of flavor in the chili, especially with fresh peppers and onions.

Lastly let it cool pretty well before you start to put it away or put it in the freezer.  This is really just safe cooking practice but it makes for a better product coming out of the freezer.

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Bowl of chili with a dollop of sour cream

Lastly have a good time.  Get a spoon with a back story.  Enjoy chili.

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