This is how I make Chili

I’ve written about my son before. He’s a sweet, easy-going guy with a great sense of humor. He’ll soon be 13, and he’s heavily into Dub Step now, as kids will be these days. He’s an artist, a musician and a tech whiz. He’s the only one in the family I’d trust with a power tool.
Also, he’s particular when it comes to foods. Of course he loves pizza and burgers just like any other kid. He also likes sushi, though, and caper berries, he actually enjoys runny French brie, and he wouldn’t touch ketchup with a ten-foot pole.

Wonder what his favorite dish in the world is? Oddly, it’s chili con carne, so, despite of myself, I’ve become quite a seasoned maker of that old Mexican traditional. My recipe is most probably stolen, as I’ve eaten chili more times that I can remember, both here and in the States, over the years. Unlike many other cooks, I never add corn – I’m actually pretty certain that any Mexican native would call that an abomination. I may be wrong about that, I don’t really care for corn in chili, I just don’t think it adds anything to it. Be that as it may, the other day I was asked to write up what I do to my version of chili, so here goes. You will need:

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300 g ground beef
4 onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large handful of parsley leaves, chopped
1 large handful of cilantro, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
red beans (kidney or pinto), 3 cans
2 cans of tomato passata
dash of red wine
olive oil
cumin
chili flakes
salt, pepper and sugar to taste

In a large stock pot, fry the ground beef in olive oil until brown, then turn down heat and add chopped onions and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes. Turn heat back up, add red wine, veg and herbs, canned tomatoes ad spices.
Let stew at low heat for at least 1 hour, gently stirring every once in a while. Adjust your liquid if necessary, and check your seasoning. Add the strained beans and let simmer for another half hour at least.
Again, check your liquid and seasoning at regular intervals – especially if you have a gas stove like I do – it’s humiliating to have to scrub a cooking pot only because you couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to your rice, stew, soup or chili. I know because I’ve been there, more often that I’d like.

Not unlike a stew, a good chili only gets better the second day, so should you be in a position to not have to cook the day you’re planning to eat this, by all means go ahead and make it in advance. If you reheat chili, please see paragraph above. Beans are dangerous in terms of potentially ruining your cooking pots. Delicate and spiteful legumes, it would seem.

So there – happy with your chili? Good. Open a bag of tortilla chips, make a small bowl of guac, and serve with plenty of thick sour cream.

Oh, right, guac! We always have it as a side dish for chili, and this is how I make it:

3 soft avocados, peeled, pitted
1 lemon, juiced
1 handful of cilantro leaves
3-4 green onions
salt to taste
(chili flakes and cumin, if you insist. I love it more à’l nature)

Using a stick blender, mash the ingredients above to a yummy shade of alien green paste, season the way you like it, and serve. That was easy, right?

Enjoy this completely European and entirely personal favorite way to eat chili! And please let me know how you make yours – I’m always happy to learn!

Little Things

Those of you who have kids know how it is. Temperatures drop, sunlight fades, germs gear up, and immune systems … well, I always imagine them raising their little immune system hands and simply surrendering. Sniffles, chills, sore throats and achy limbs ensue. Before you know it, your cozy, wintery home has transformed into a camphor-smelling sick bay, and you can feel the Florence Nightingale cap installing itself on your tired head with a gentle but inevitable click.

This is when you need Little Things. Little Things can be a variety of foods, items or activities, and they may differ from family to family. At my house, it’s usually an assortment of: bowls of chicken soup, a few tangerine slices, a cup of hot milk and honey, a dash of lavender added to a hot bath, fuzzy socks, a soft silk scarf, a favorite furry toy, hot water bottle, a chapter or two of a Dr. Dolittle story, a cute old movie … all these wrapped up in exasperated love for the suffering brood.

It’s on these not that infrequent occasions that I actually question having done the right thing becoming a mom. What was I thinking?! I remember my own hyper, impatient, desperately trying and ultimately losing the struggle to be nurturing, mom. From my perspective of today I can see her straining against the leash my being home and sick put on her brilliant mind – always worrying about some linguistic puzzle or the right pronunciation of a particularly rare word in an ancient Transylvanian dialect. I remember, and I try not to fall into that trap myself. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes, it’s so easy to hide behind an assignment, a conveniently looming deadline, or a set of urgent chores that absolutely can’t wait.

But then, when I really look into those little faces flushed with fever, it’s my turn to surrender. I give up all pretense of being a professional, and I switch gears. I go for one of those grocery runs that make the lady at the check-out cluck in sympathy: oranges, lemons, all sorts of fruit, veggies, a whole chicken, white toast, apple sauce and instant rice pudding, lots of milk and bottled water. Tissues! Linden flower tea, cough syrup and nurofen juice from the pharmacy. Maybe a sweet roll or a treat from the bakery. Then back home, prepare chicken soup on autopilot, and read a story, wipe noses, make tea, refill water bottles, prepare a hot water bottle if needed. And while the sweet smell of fresh chicken soup begins wafting through the house, I can feel myself winding down, enjoying those Little Things, and accepting that it is what it is: My kids are sick, so they need me.

My advice to everyone of you who finds herself in that predicament, privately ranting against the injustice of f…ing gender inequality, demanding a modicum of professionalism of herself while surrounded by snotty, coughing and insufferable youngsters is this: Breathe in, breathe out. Put the work stuff out of your mind for now. Enjoy the fragrance of linden flower tea, help yourself to a little Swiss chocolate, heck, have a glass of Scotch if you want, and remember this: You are blessed. You have children who love you and depend on you. Be there for them, and enjoy their little faces relaxing as their eyes slowly drift shut. They’ll remember you did this for them, and you’re teaching them how wonderful it is to feel cared for even if you’re miserable, annoying and disgusting. You’re making them feel safe.

I’m leaving you today with a bunch of pictures of our Little Things. I would love to hear what yours are. Take care, everyone.

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