The Simple Things
Once in while, this journey called life sends us those little (or not so little) reminders of how precious our lives and our loved ones are. Sometimes they come as gentle reminders – that special hug from a child, a knowing look from your spouse, a good deed from a stranger. And sometimes the tap on the shoulder is more like a shake – the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child, a diagnosis. These reminders can come at any time, usually when you least expect.
I’ve been feeling contemplative this past week. Those who know me personally will understand. Between family and dear friends, we have witnessed these reminders of the fragility of life. And though we have all, at one point in our lives, gone though loss, sometimes it’s hard to find the right words of comfort. I found myself struggling this week, trying to convey just how much I care for our friends who are suffering. The hugs never seem tight enough, the words, miserably worse.
When these moments pass, I feel as though they are re-set buttons for life. You appreciate what is truly important. You turn to the simpler things. For all the glamour and glitz, it’s the mundane that can never be replaced. That hug. That hand to hold. Those are the things you return to.
It made me realize that perhaps that is what comfort food is all about. What we associate as comforting is also usually the simplest of foods. For me, it’s my Arroz Caldo (chicken soup). For other’s it’s Macaroni and Cheese. Or a casserole. Maybe even Chili.
Between you and me, I never appreciated Chili until I moved to the Midwest. I was newly transplanted, quite alone, yet found myself invited to a quaint hometown autumn parade in a very small town a few hours outside of Chicago. It was a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting: a tree lined street brilliant with fall foliage, fold out chairs lining the sidewalk, little red wagons carrying the smallest paraders, and open homes filled with buffets of potluck. This is where I tasted the best Chili. I have struggled to recreate the flavor. Although I have, time and again, turned to my own mother in law’s chili recipe, it is this potluck Chili that still haunts me and guides my tastebuds every time I cook up a big batch.
I think I’ve come pretty close to achieving that taste. It’s not perfect, but it will have to do for now. And when I do make it, the Sweet Corn Muffins are the requisite side. I like to think they need each other.
Serves a crowd.
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground turkey
- 2 small onions, chopped (I like a combination of yellow and red onions)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp cumin to taste
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp marjoram
- 1 6 oz can tomato paste
- 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1-2 cups low sodium beef broth
- 4 cans of beans (I like to do 1 can each of kidney, black, cannellini, and pinto. If you have time to soak your beans, use dried.)
- 4-5 stalks of celery, finely diced
- 2-3 tablespoons sugar
In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Brown ground beef and ground turkey, stirring often and breaking down the ground meats until evenly crumbled. When browned, add the the onions and garlic, season with a little salt and pepper. Add cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano and marjoram. Stir in tomato paste. Add tomatoes, beef broth, beans, celery and sugar. Cook slowly and taste often, adjusting seasonings as necessary. When serving, garnish with green onions, sour cream, cheddar cheese, red onions, jalapenos, etc. Serve with Sweet Corn Muffins*.
*Do not laugh, but my favorite recipe for Sweet Corn Muffins come straight off the box for Albers Yellow Corn Meal. I just love it, so I figure, why mess with a good thing? The recipe can be found here.