Blog Envy

Have you ever stopped doing something you love and couldn’t figure out why? I’m reading food blogs again and it’s a good thing.

FOODFIXTATTOO6 Home page

I realized I stopped doing this a while back and it was as if I’d just lost interest. I mean how many hours of the day do I have to devote to food, after all!  I’m either cooking it, leading my staff in prepping it, prepping it myself, planning it, writing menus, tweeking recipes, discussing it, researching it or eating it. Most days my staff at Harvest watches me wander around, sometime around noon, with a compostable plate in my hand, and a pained look on my face. I’m trying to decide what to eat and though I’m hungry in a physiological way, I have little appetite. I’ve been tasting all morning and my hair smells like sautéed onions. Eventually I fill the plate with odds and ends: a mound of fresh greens and shredded carrots  from the salad bar, a seared piece of fish from the grill, some roasted veggies from the daily entree  station. I take my plate down to the lower kitchen where the production office is and I sit crouched at a corner of the desk, the fluorescents letting off a low buzz, and eat my lunch facing a wall.  Sometimes the other chef I work with sits at the other corner of the desk, staring into the computer screen fixing numbers on the food ordering system so we don’t accidentally get 400 leeks when we only need 40. We may talk, while I eat, or we may not. If we do it’s about work. I don’t really take a full 30-minute break for lunch, like my union contract tells me I should, nor do I take a full 15-minute break at some other time in the day either. We make sure our staff does, (union rules again) and when they do they can be seen sitting in groups of two or more, in a corner of the public dining area, eating and talking and laughing. I wonder what they are saying in Spanish or Mandarin or Czechoslovakian, but I don’t join them. No one wants to spend their break with the boss, even if they like her.

Later, when I get home from work, after an hour and 15 minute commute, I make myself something to eat. Something easy. Another salad with stuff I may have made in a big batch over the weekend: baked herby chicken breasts, roasted sweet potatoes, marinated beets or artichokes. Or I’ll heat up a container of a soup or one-pot wonder I make in a large batch and put up a dozen containers of in the freezer. I sit on the couch with my old dog, Phoebe, whose been alone all day except for a visit from the dog walker. I turn on the TV. I eat. On my left I keep a bag of unsalted corn tortillas. I occasionally toss one to the dog so she will quit whining the whole time I’m trying to eat. This routine made me think that I’d gotten her trained to stop begging and whimpering while I eat, so I can focus on the latest dvr’d episode of my favorite shows, but the truth is she has trained me to feed her a constant stream of chips by whining me within an inch of my last nerve every night for the past year.

For some reason, a few nights ago, instead of parking myself in front of the TV with the chip monster, I sat at the kitchen table, put my food in front of me on a nice place mat, propped open my laptop and looked at my emails. Not the most inspiring way to spend a meal, I realize, but hey, I never said I was a model of mindfulness. Anyway,  I noticed an update from a blog I subscribe to, one I’ve been deleting without reading for months.  I opened the email and clicked through the the site. Elissa Altman writes beautifully at poormansfeast.com. I’ve enjoyed her writing for a few years, and so have the folks at the James Beard foundation because they awarded her “Best Individual Food Blog” in 2012. Her blog is not about recipes, per se, though she may include one in any given post, or in her book. She writes about food in the kind of personal way that I admire and aspire to do and somehow links her personal stories to larger issues that we as a society, culture or world face (or don’t want to face.) As I read this latest post of hers (not-so-coincidently on the subject of eating alone) I wondered why I hadn’t read her or any of my other favorites that get delivered to my inbox with regularity in the last year. I was deleting them unread to clear them out of my sightline as quickly as possible. Was I really that busy or sick and tired of the subject of food?

If I was going to be honest with myself, it was more like these bloggers with their awards and millions of visitors and book deals were pissing me off. Their success was bugging the shit out of me. I wasn’t writing and they were. They were expressing their voices and their visions and maybe I’d given up on mine, singing the sad song of the work-a-day grind that left me exhausted and the even sadder song of “who-cares-what-I-have-to-say blues.” Their consistency showed up in my inbox to mock and torment me. I didn’t want to read because I didn’t want to write. I had my excuses…the divorce, the full-time job, adjusting to the changes in my life over the passed two years…but each post from these dedicated writers made my excuses feel like a lot of blah, blah, blah. Yea, people tell me, you’ve been through a lot, Rachel. Give yourself a break. Well, I have given myself a break. I gave up on the blog. I gave up on my business and my vision and took a full-time job for less money than I’m worth for the steady paycheck and the “benefits.”  Admitting this was about as comfortable as having a Heimlich-worthy piece of steak stuck in my throat with no one around to give me that life-saving hug.

Then as I read on, I scrolled down to see that Elissa’s new post contained a video of her TED talk and I just knew I was going to have to read the whole post and watch the video. And I realized I wasn’t pissed anymore. I just admired the hell out of her. Good for her! I thought. She’s got something to say and she’s saying it and she figured out a way to find her audience. She’s going about her life and work fearlessly, or judging by her nervousness as she spoke, despite her fears. Once I was free to be proud of her efforts and to celebrate her accomplishment (a TED talk!), I felt something stirring in me that I hadn’t felt in a while, instead of the life-sapping emotion of jealousy. I had to work at figuring out what it was, after I ruled out indigestion, anxiety, and temporary insanity. It was my own creative juices trying to break through the veil of inertia I’d surrounded myself with in the past year. It was my own voice clearing it’s throat and bringing up a doozie of a loogie so it could say,  “HELLO! We are down here being totally neglected!” I heard my inner voices scream in that way that inner voices scream by creating a burning ball of pain in your chest or a rock of a knot in your neck, or a bag of butterflies with teeth in your stomach.

I know what I have to do. And I say this with a long, deep sigh attached to it. I sometimes want life to be like Balsamic Roasted Tomatoes, a simple recipe: 4-5 beautiful ingredients that come together quickly with a moderate amount of prep, a little heat and very little clean up.

image

BUT NO. It’s more like a TurDuckIn: a riddle, wrapped inside an enigma, wrapped inside a hernia. It has to be Recipe-For-Reinvention Hell once again for Chef Rachel!  I know I’ll have to wake up from my little dream of security and benefits and punching a clock and doing what a lot of people would agree is the sane way to spend the next 10 years of my life so that my old age can be “secure”. (Did I mention I just had double pneumonia and bronchitis for nearly and month and thought I was about to cash in my unsalted chips right now, never mind 10 years from now? So how secure is secure anyway?) I just may have to wake up and live my life and listen to my voices, and live out loud and let my juices flow. What is that going to look like? What would it look like for you?

Stay tuned my friends, stay tuned.

Hint: I’m writing this on a layover at Zurich Airport on my way to the Amalfi Coast for 11 days where I’m leading a group culinary tour!

image

Slab Granoloa

SLABGRANOLA-IN-HAND

Like I don’t already put enough pressure on myself to eat healthy, stay thin, stay positive, work hard, cut out the wine at bedtime (!), get organized, clean the damn house from time to time, do laundry, walk the dog (again), get out and talk to other humans, exercise and try hard to let go of my kids because they are grown-ups and mostly don’t need me to be their Mom-ager. And then New Year’s comes along and it’s got me gnashing my teeth over a short list of resolutions I SHOULD be doing IF I want to have what all the holiday-card-senders and well-wishers seem to want me to have: A HAPPY, HEALTHY, PROSPEROUS, AND PEACEFUL NEW YEAR.

And I want that for myself too, I really do. But with me this leads to ANXIETY. The first couple of weeks of January I worry about how I am going to make that happy, prosperous thing happen. Every year starts with the optimism that it can be done and I don’t know why I am so optimistic on January 1, when just the night before, I might have been thinking how glad I was that I could stop pushing the rock that was last year up the hill and maybe, just maybe coast a bit in the year to come. There is something about a clean slate that we love, don’t we? But, honestly this year it’s making me just a little tired.  I make lists of things I’ve yet to do that must be done. Things I want to do, things that are good, really good, but just can’t seem to make myself do, or stir up the voodoo to manifest. Here is my list and tell me if it doesn’t scare you.

  1. write more: blog, journal, book idea
  2. continue taking classes toward my masters’ degree in mental health counseling
  3. meditate once a day; twice is better
  4. exercise daily, at least 3x a week in the gym w weights
  5. make more money than last year; be in demand for my services, talents.
  6. date. try to date.

Ok, it’s a lot, but you can see I’m trying. Number 1:  I’m writing. It’s torture, but I’m doing it. Why it’s torture, why I avoid it at all costs when it brings me such pleasure, and satisfaction when it’s all said and done, I can’t tell you. Maybe it has to do with an overall difficulty with indulging in pleasurable activities that lead to nothing in particular except pleasure. I was not raised to have fun. (#7. Have more fun.)

Very Brief And Over-Simplified History: My mother was a Nazi concentration camp survivor and my father was a violent, charming, pedophile, so I learned about genocide and sex at an early age and maybe I somehow linked pleasure to pain, and NOT in a sexy way. From my mother I learned that if I wasn’t vigilant, all that I cherished could be lost in an instant, for no good reason other than who or what I happened to be; and from my father I learned that my body, and those I loved, could betray me. Fast-forward childhood to serious adulthood, do not pass Go or collect any carefree playtime. (I repeat: #7!)

Wait, is this a blog about food?, you may be asking yourself right now as you scroll down and search for the unsubscribe link. Bear with me. Yes, it is about food, because with all I’ve been through, food and cooking have been my joyous through-line and life-line. But as my own life has changed over the past two years, I’ve avoided this platform because I knew somehow that it would have to change too: that the sunny family kitchen and the bright photos, and the long days I had to spend on cooking projects were over. I knew Food Fix Kitchen had to change and morph as I continue to do, but I didn’t know in what way. Now I have an idea how I want it to be but I still don’t know if I have the courage to do it, or the talent to pull it off. Or in the end, if anyone gives a s#*t. And even if they don’t, according to my list, it’s something I seem to have to do to satisfy my healthy, happy quotient (and soul).

I want to write about food, but not in the “here’s the recipe and the step by step pictures” way it has been or that you can find copious examples of at the flick of a search engine. I want to write about food and how it makes us feel, how we relate to it, the memories it makes, the pain it suppresses, the pleasure it brings or the way we use it to punish ourselves. I want to explore our food fixes by exploring my own relationship with food—a complicated love affair—and writing in a meaningful way about it, while sometimes using foul (or fowl) language if that’s where my voice takes me (I salute you Thug Kitchen). Yes, there will be recipes, mostly wholesome, healthy recipes that reflect my menu at the restaurant, because that’s where I’m doing most of my cooking these days, but others may be wildly indulgent and have no other possible reason for being other that complete unadulterated pleasure. (That is if I get to #7, and I’m hoping I do.)

SLABGRANOLA-ON-TABLE

And finally, here is a recipe. It’s everything I love and need in a snack which mainly comes down to CRUNCH, followed by sort-of-healthy, not-too-fattening and delicious. AND FUN (#7 ). I found this at my local Whole Foods while rushing past the bakery section with partially-averted eyes, trying hard to ignore the gluten-and-dairy filled treats I can’t have. They call it TRAIL BARK, but I’m warning you now that you won’t find it at all Whole Foods locations—I learned this the hard way while nervously jonesing for it during a trip to Napa Valley to visit my son. Hence this recipe, so I will NEVER have to be without it again. Trail Bark is a good name for it, but I like to call mine, (a very accurate, though slightly tweaked version of it), GRANOLA SLAB. It bakes up, low and slow, as a sheet-pan-sized slab. Cut into squares and enjoy like a cookie, or pound it up into clusters to be eaten like cereal with your milk of choice, sprinkle on yogurt, fruit, salad, ice cream, or PBJ sandwiches.

Full Disclosure: While I begged the bakery team leader at Whole Foods in Montclair, NJ to give me the recipe, verbatim, as used by his team, he politely refused. Instead he sent me a recipe he said  “I found online to be most similar to our recipe. It does call for butter which ours does not, (we use sunflower oil). The only other thing I see it is missing is brown sugar and molasses to help with the sweetness.” Having tried his “similar” recipe, I can say with confidence that it is worthy. I omit the brown sugar, use oil instead of butter, and add a bit of molasses.  The original comes from the Anson Mills website, a producer of superior organic artisan grains and flours.

ingredients

Slab Granola

16 ounces (3 cups) steel cut oats such as Anson Mills Handmade Toasted Stone Cut Oats
6 ounces (2 cups) raw sliced almonds
3 ounces (1 cup) unsweetened shredded coconut
4ounces (1 cup) raw shelled sunflower or pumpkin seeds
3.75 ounces (¾ cup) raw hulled sesame seeds
2¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)
1½ teaspoons ground ginger (optional)
¾ teaspoon grated nutmeg (optional)
5 ounces sunflower oil, or other neutral-tasting oil or fat source you prefer.
9 ounces (scant 1 cup) honey
2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

directions
  • Line a large rimmed baking sheet (18 by 13 inches) with parchment paper and set it aside.

  • Place the oats, almonds, coconut, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and spices in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine.

  • Heat the oil/fat and honey in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat until the butter melts. Stir in the salt and vanilla, and then pour the mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Turn the granola onto the prepared baking sheet and press firmly with an offset spatula to create an even layer about ½ inch thick. Cover and refrigerate overnight, time and space permitting.

  • Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 250 degrees. Bake the granola until it is firm to the touch and deep golden brown, about 1¼ hours. Let cool in the baking sheet; the granola will become crisper as it cools.

  • When cooled and crisp, lift an edge of the parchment paper to loosen the bark and break the granola into pieces. Store in zipper-lock plastic bags or a container with a tight lid at cool room temperature. The granola will keep at the height of its texture and flavor for 2 weeks.

Taking Whisks

 

TAKE-A-WHISK-WHITE-T-FOR-BLOGWell, whaddya know! I’m a full-time chef! I’m up to my ears in food day in and day out. I’m managing a staff that puts out mise en place like a well-oiled machine, while saying “yes, chef” with a smile (at least to my face!) I’m cooking in pans the size of a manhole cover. When I drive home after a day’s work, I can smell the food on my hands as they clutch the steering wheel during rush hour traffic, even though I’ve washed them dozens of times during the day, and gone through dozens of plastic gloves. We are feeding around 250-300 people a day, with healthy “from scratch” cooking using whole, fresh foods—not your usual college dining fare.  Harvest, located inside the gorgeous new state-of-the-art research facility that houses the NJ Institute for Food, Nutrition & Health on Rutgers University’s Cook Campus is, if you listen to our growing group of fans and regulars, fast becoming a “must-dine” destination for faculty, staff and students across the Rutgers’ campuses.

YouTube Preview Image

Without sounding like a brat, can I just say that I miss putzing around my old sun-lit kitchen, spending a few hours making a dish, composing the perfect plate of it, dragging it over to the window or the sliding glass door to capture the best light, then taking dozens of pictures with a real camera to capture it in all it’s deliciousness. After which I would sit quietly at my kitchen table and eat the damn thing because, dammit, I worked up an appetite and I earned it. Maybe that day, or the next, I’d sit down to reflect and write about that luxurious experience in my kitchen, what it reminded me of and what it made me feel.

I’ve been careful not to dwell on what I miss about my life before the big D. It’s not the best place to go when you are trying to focus on moving forward, moving on, letting go,  being in the moment and being grateful for what “is.” The words “I miss…” threatens always to pull me into a backwards turning whirlpool that will suck me down to the depths of hyped and hyberbolic nostalgia faster than flushing toilet.

In that spirit, I want to say how grateful I am for my life, job, children, friends and family that make up my life as it is right now! In the last two years I’ve done things, felt feelings, and faced obstacles that I couldn’t have imagined I’d have to deal with. These experiences have made me grow as a woman, a mother and a friend. I’m starting to recognize my old self again, while being introduced to a new me at the same time. I may not be doing savory & sweet little projects in my sun-lit kitchen anymore, but I am doing some really interesting food at Harvest, playing with food on a larger stage, and I would like to share some of those healthy, hearty and delicious recipes with you here.

And I’d like to share a new project with you as well. Food Fix Wear.

FOODFIX WEAR LOGO ROUND

This is a project I’ve thought about doing for a long time and finally have found the resources and time to launch it. I’m starting small, but have plans to grow it with more designs and products. From the Food Fix Wear website:

“At Food Fix Wear our designs have messages that inspire and satisfy your hunger for self expression. We celebrate food, cooking, cooks (home and pro) and the culture of the kitchen, which has many life lessons to teach us. While peeling carrots, whisking cream or grating cheese you can learn a lot about what makes you hungry in life, and what feeds and satisfies your mind, body and spirit.”

Just in time for the holidays (and a gift idea for that foodie in your life), I’ve launched my three original designs under a collection called “Kitchen Wisdom”. You may recognize these designs from my temporary tattoos that I posted a while back. I’ve given out hundreds (and they’ve been pinned on Pinterest by thousands of people) of these temporary tattoos, particulary to kids in my classes and cooking parties and I always thought these icons would make great t-shirts or look great on an apron or dish towels. So now, Food Fix Wear is the start of something I hope will grow with more Kitchen Wisdom designs, as well as with another collection I’m calling “Food is Good”:

“These designs will feature and celebrate the foods we love, the “food fix” that makes the world seem delicious. Whether you crave brown rice or brownies, chicken fingers or frogs legs you’ll find a design that will speak your “food fix” truth. The Food Is Good collection will let you express your appetite for life and wear your food fixes proudly!”

I hope you will visit Food Fix Wear and help support this project by sharing it on social media. You can also “like” our Facebook page, and follow us on Twitter and Pinterest.

Thanks! Next post: My son’s beautiful Napa Valley wedding and an Ad Hoc recipe!

 

fly by pantry

LIVE ON THE EDGE NEWEST FINAL

I have to admit that I approach life in a kind of “wing and a prayer” mode a lot of the time. I prepare to the best of my ability, sometimes I even over-prepare (expecting the worst), but I know that most of what I love to do in life requires a certain trust that, when I have to, when I get there, I will summon what it takes to get the job done. Sometimes living on the edge works spectacularly, (see Chopped episode), and sometimes it doesn’t (see Cutthroat Kitchen episode and my hair in the 90s).

While life holds many uncertainties, there is a kind of reliability in cooking that calms me: have the right ingredients, use the time-tested techniques, and you can produce some wonderful, nourishing, satisfying thing that is greater than the sum of its parts. A bowl of white powder, a cup of white granules, a chicken embryo or two, and some small amounts of other white powder, mixed with a little cow’s milk and YOU HAVE CAKE!! Visitors from another galaxy would witness this bit of alchemy and shout “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” and instantly worship us for our transformative powers.

Now, every culinary magician needs his/her bag of tricks and that, it turns out, is a well-stocked pantry (hereafter known as WSP).  I talked about this recently in an interview for News Feed Daily, a news service out of the midwest. With a little planning (and my list, below) you’ll be more equipped to “fly by the seat of your pantry(tm)” and create quick, wholesome meals for you and your family. How, you ask? I need recipes, you say! Well, maybe, and in that case having a WSP will ensure that if you spontaneously decide to cook something from a recipe you happen to see in a magazine, you will likely have all the ingredients you need already, or you may just have to make a quick stop for a protein or fresh bread.

VINCHIX.INGREDIENTS

If you like to be creative, open the fridge and pantry and pretend you are on Chopped with 20 minutes to go before your kids get home for dinner, then having a well-stocked pantry will make you a champion! Either way, having a WSP requires a little shopping and planning, and willingness to keep a “restock list” going as you run out of things. It’s not rocket science, but getting in the habit of creating a list will also allow you to delegate shopping duties, thereby sharing the meal preparation tasks with another, perhaps culinarily-challenged member or your household.

See links below to access the WSP List and also a WSP Shop List you can take along to the store or post on your fridge to keep track of things you need on a weekly basis (circle what you need). Over the next few posts, (yes, I will begin posting again, I promise), I’ll be doing recipes that can be made directly from your Well Stocked Pantry so go out and stock up so you can play along!

FLY BT SEAT OF PANTRY

FLY BT SEAT OF PANTRY FLY BY SEAT OF PANTRY SHOPPING LIST

Chili Heartburn

CHILIHTBURN

 

The chili is killing me.

I had two 1lb packages of ground turkey in the fridge that were looking gray around the edges. I knew I had to cook them up today. I threw a little olive oil in a big skillet and warmed it. I sliced open the hermetically sealed packages, dumped their contents into the shimmering oil and began breaking up the ground meat with a metal spatula and pushing it around in the pan. Sliding open my spice drawer, I grabbed the cumin, cayenne, smoked paprika, chili, onion and garlic powders. I threw an eyeballed amount of each at the cooking meat and the air in the kitchen became fragrant with their aroma, and heavy, suddenly, with emotion. A little knot in my chest burst into a radiant fireball of sadness fueled by the smell of those toasting spices. This is a simple dish I made almost weekly for my daughter, Lily. It was something she liked having in the fridge as a quick protein rich and low carb “go-to” meal, when she was hungry NOW or running out the door with no time for a real dinner. I texted her.

Mom: Making chili. Thinking of you!
Lily: Awww! Mommy!! I miss you so much!  Wish I could have some!  🙁

But she can’t. Because she is in New Orleans. A freshman at Tulane. She moved into school on August 22. I flew down to help with the move-in, as did her Dad—separate flights, separate hotel rooms, averted eyes. We were polite and focused on our daughter and her needs that day, avoiding any mention of the fact that we’d be officially divorced in a matter of weeks, or that August 22nd was our 21st Anniversary.

I was afraid to go home. The words “empty nest” were not just a description of what my house would be once I got back, they were a buzzing neon sign blinking on and off in my heart and making it burn. So, postponing the inevitable, I booked a flight from New Orleans to San Francisco and reserved a rental car to take me to Napa. A few days with my son, a few more days of mothering, might help ease me into the idea that I would no longer ever be a full-time Mom again. But this wasn’t just an “idea”, or a transition, or a gradual shift. One day, August 21, 2014 I was still a full-time mom. On the afternoon of August 22nd, I said a tearful goodbye to my brave-faced daughter, then an awkward goodbye to my soon-to-be-ex-husband, (after a surreal and superficial shared ride to the airport). As I walked toward my gate, a 26-year-long lovely, love-filled journey ended at an emotional cliff’s edge, and there was nothing to do but jump.

And if this frightening free-fall were not enough, the heavens delivered a heavy-handed metaphor at 3:30 AM on August 23rd, just three hours into my visit to Napa. As I sat on the couch with my son, Max and his girlfriend, Theresa sipping wine and talking (they’d just gotten home from work at The French Laundry and hour earlier), an earthquake hit Napa valley—a whopping 6.1 on the Richter scale and we were just a few miles from it’s epicenter.

The ground felt like pistons pulsing inside an engine about to explode. The sound was that of a freight train speeding by an inch from your eardrum. The house vibrated and whipped violently in one direction then snapped back just as violently in the other, as the quake travelled below us. All the kitchen cabinets burst open and their contents exploded into the air, crashing to the floor. A computer flew off the desk and shattered. The dog barked frantically. I was screaming like a fool on a rollercoaster who can’t wait for the hellish ride to end. My son shouted, “Oh my God” over and over as we all held on to that couch for dear life. The power went out and it stopped. We’d survived and made our way through broken glass to the street, and waited out the night sitting in the car, parked far from the leaning power lines and a burst water main. At dawn we went back into the house to clean up the mess and finally got some Xanax-induced sleep.

Really? Did I really need a earthquake to punctuate the fact that my life was shaken to the core—that the geodesic plates of my existence were indeed on the move! Solid ground had shifted beneath me over the past nine months. Marriage? Over. Husband? Gone. Sweet Ruby the Dog? Dead. Daughter? Off to college and 1000’s of miles away. Son? All grown up and on the other coast. My little Tot the Cat? Run over by a car LAST WEEK!! House? Empty. What happens next to a 58-year-old woman who spent the last 26 years taking care of others? A vast unknown.

And I was doing great, really! I’d done some planning. My cooking class and event schedule was busy into the holidays. I’d enrolled in college myself, determined to chip away at the Master’s Degree in Counseling, that I’d wanted to do in my 30s but postponed when I got pregnant with my son. I had homework, and papers to write for God’s sake! I had these new workshops I was doing with groups of seniors on food memories and healing from the past, that were exciting and showed me a glimpse at a future in which I could combine all my passions. I’d nurtured a network of supportive friends and family to hear my rants and have me to dinner. I went for long walks in beautiful surroundings. Life was going to be OK.

RACHELATROUNDVALLEY

It’s just that today, that chili…the aroma…cut to the heart in a way that nothing had since I had returned from Napa. The wafting cumin and browning meat wasn’t just a smell. It was a key that unlocked raw emotion. It was a code that deciphered encrypted sorrow. It upended the strategic scaffolding holding up my resolute cheerful industriousness. I tossed in the can of crushed tomatoes and as it came to a simmer, I was crying before I could even name why. I sank into an overstuffed club chair I keep in the kitchen, and my old dog Phoebe jumped up beside me to slurp up my tears. The chili made me ache and long for my daughter in a way I hadn’t let myself since she’d left. It made me understand that no one, absolutely no one, was coming home for dinner tonight or tomorrow or the next day. I was a mom with no kids to mother and a cook with no one to cook for. My refrigerator was stuffed with food, but I had no appetite.

Boo Hoo, right? As my German, no-nonsense, Holocaust-surviving mother used to say, “So, you have to suffer. So what!” As a woman who had a fair share of suffering in her life, I don’t think she meant to be without compassion when she said that. She meant to banish her own demons, particularly the one called Self-Pity.  And she meant, I think, to teach me and remind herself that pain was part and parcel of a life well-lived. No one was immune to their share of suffering, so it was best to not take it too personally and move through it as quickly as possible.

I think I’ll put that chili in the freezer and start planning my Thanksgiving menu. Lily will be home for that.

 

 

ingredients

Quick Turkey Chili

2 lbs ground dark meat turkey (or other ground meat or meat combo of choice)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 26-oz. can crushed or diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

directions
  • Put a medium stock pot or large braiser/skillet on  medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and warm it until it shimmers. Add the tomato paste and all the dried spices and stir around the pan until the tomato paste browns a bit and the spices become toasted and fragrant. Add the ground meat and begin immediately breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon or metal spatula. Continue breaking the meat up and turning it over in the pan until it is fully cooked and lightly browned.

  • Add the contents of the can of tomatoes, liquid and all. Stir to combine well. Reduce heat to medium and allow the mixture to simmer for 30 minutes or so and thicken. Taste and season with salt and pepper, or add additional dried spices to taste. Remove from heat and cool before storing in sealed containers. Should be good for about 5 days….if it lasts that long.

    Note: I do not pretend that this is authentic, cooked-for-hours chili. If you want that it would be easy to find a great recipe in a google-minute.  This recipe is not on anyone’s culinary cutting-edge!  It’s one of those down and dirty quick and easy things mom’s sometimes make. I love it because it’s virtually no carbs — a tasty, quick protein meal to make kids eat before homework or a practice so they can focus and have energy for the task at hand. However you could make it a more traditional chili by adding drained and rinsed canned beans, or using fresh chopped onions and garlic at the beginning, instead of the respective powders. You could melt cheese over the top when serving, (I frequently do) and use chips to scoop it into your mouth (I frequently do this too.) — RR