Monday, November 23, 2009

Ever have one of those days?

Patty here…

I should have known that spontaneity sometimes ends in disaster. Last Wednesday was a crazy day. I had a physical therapy appointment at 10:00 a.m. After that, I raced to my volunteer job at the local police station where I worked for an hour or so before rushing to Marina del Rey to have lunch with a friend who was passing through the area. Later, back at the station, one of the officers asked me if, due to a shortage of contestants, I could participate in a chili cook off the following day.

I vaguely remembered making chili once before. It wasn’t brain surgery, just meat and beans, so what could go wrong? I had to be at a meeting in the Fairfax district that night from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., but surely I had enough time to do the chili fandango before ten the next morning.

However, later when I looked through my cookbooks, the chili recipes seemed more complicated than I remembered. Nevertheless, if I was going to be up all night cooking, so be it. After all, my word is my bond.

First, I zipped to the grocery store to buy the ingredients, a page and a half of exotic stuff like pasilla chilies, which I’d never heard of before. The recipe called for Eureka beer with an asterisk that said if Eureka wasn’t available, any dark beer would do.

Not surprising, Joe Albertson didn’t have Eureka beer, so I scanned the refrigerated cases for an alternative. I’m not that familiar with dark beers so I grabbed a six-pack of Guinness and flew to the checkout counter.

At home, I began to chop and dice in a race against the clock. So much food was flying, I’m still finding remnants of Serrano chilies ground into the grout of my kitchen tiles. The dried beans were supposed to soak overnight, but who had time for that? I threw them in a pan with water and willed them to soften because, rain or shine, those babies were going on the stove when I got home from my meeting at nine.

By 5:15, I had poached, pureed, and pounded according to directions. I threw the first phase ingredients, including three bottles of the Guinness beer, in the pot to simmer for a couple of hours. I hate to leave anything cooking on the stove when I’m not at home but duty called. I had to make that meeting.

It took me forty-five minutes to creep through rush hour traffic to the Farmer’s Market. I arrived five minutes early, just in time to jog into World Market to buy some soap I didn’t need in order to get a break on the parking fee. I plopped the soap in my purse—no time for a bag—and bolted for the meeting room, arriving just as the clock struck six.

No one was there.

I waited ten minutes before searching the lower level to see if the group had moved the meeting downstairs. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Where were they? Finally I thought, Screw it. Chili waits for no man or meeting. If I darted through traffic, I could get home in time to start the next phase of the recipe and maybe get some sleep before the roosters crowed. (The next day I learned they had changed the meeting date without telling me.)

Decision made, I ran back to my car. In another forty-five minutes, I was home and ready to begin part two of the recipe. There were some questionable instructions, such as add a “bunch” of cilantro. A cup I understand, but how much is a bunch? The “bunch” I’d purchased at the market was a lot of cilantro, but was it too much? Yes. I opted for a “hand full” instead of a “bunch.” I put the beans on the stove to cook for two hours, poured myself a Guinness, and sat down for a little R&R while watching “Glee.” Glee was great. The Guinness was—how can I say this without betraying my Irish roots?—a little bitter.

Just before midnight, I combined the two halves of the chili and tasted it. It was awful!!! Not inedible, but unpleasantly bitter. So much for Guinness as a beer substitute. Now what? I considered throwing the whole mess away but the ingredients cost $55.00. Besides, it was a lot of chili to dispose of. What if my garbage disposal overheated and caused an electrical grid failure. I’d be responsible for a blackout population explosion. I couldn’t flush the stuff down the toilet. All those jalapeño peppers surging through the underground sewer system producing heat and friction might cause nuclear winter. My brain was exploding. I decided to sleep on the decision.

Nevertheless, I didn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and considered my options:
  • Starting all over, cooking through the night if necessary
  • Admitting failure and bowing out of the cook off
  • Buying chili from a restaurant and passing if off as mine
  • Putting a mea culpa apology next to the crock pot
  • Adding salt
SALT! Salt masks myriad cooking fiascos. I got up and threw some saline into the brew. The chili was better but still not good. Deflated and depressed, I went back to bed, hoping the concoction would mellow overnight.

The following morning after more hand wringing, I decided to suck it up and enter my chili in the contest. I dropped the crock pot off at the station, surrounding it with bowls of sour cream, chopped onions, and jack cheese hoping accoutrements would disguise the bitter taste. When I returned later that day, I tiptoed upstairs anticipating bodies writhing on the floor in gastrointestinal distress, moaning, “Number eight did it.” My breathing was shallow as I entered the cook-off room. It was empty. No bodies. No yellow crime scene tape. No arrest warrant with my name on it. There was lots of leftover chili in other pots but my chili was gone, which meant only one thing: Somebody must have thrown it away. I sniffed the trashcans for the co-mingled odors of Guinness and jalapeños but found no evidence to support my theory. I blew out a huge Whew! Somebody—actually lots of somebodies—ate my chili and didn’t die. There was much to be thankful for.

I didn’t win the cook-off but I have a year to find a chili recipe that works because next year I’m going to win that freakin contest. It’s the least I can do to make amends. All edible chili recipes welcomed.

So, you ever have one of those days?

Chili Monday!


  1. great post, patty, i'm still smirking!

    i love chili very much. the first one i ate hat such an impact on me that i never forgot baout it. it was at the hard rock cafe in london just after it opened.

    can't help you with any good recipes though as i am still looking myelf for the perfect one.

    good luck to you in finding one.


  2. Every day is one of those days in my house.

    I used to make chili but I haven't in a long time. I never used a recipe, just threw some meat, some beans and some tomato paste together with onions and chili powder. Simple and tasty although probably boring for a contest...

  3. Maybe if I Googled "hard rock London chili" I could find the recipe, Sybille. It's worth a try.

    Karen, it's "winter" in LA so I've been into my soup and stew phase. Last night but I'm not brave enough to do anything without a recipe.

  4. Terrific Post, Our Patty. I haven't made chilli for years, but if ever there's a shepherd's pie contest, I would be there. Oh, and I have more of those kind of days than i would care to describe! Bet your chilli was wonderful - Guinness is good for you, after all.

  5. I found the alleged recipe for Hard Rock Cafe chili Manhattan at Not London, but I'm getting there. Yay!!

  6. Our J, how clever! I should have put up a sign next to the crock pot: FOR MEDICINAL PURPOSES ONLY. Next time. What goes in a good shepherd's pie?

  7. Thanks for the laugh.

  8. What a day, Patty! Your stamina is impressive. As is any Angeleno's ability to drive an hour and a half round trip for an evening meeting.

    I'll send you my husband's recipe for chili. It's so good that it's become our favorite "night before Thanksgiving" feast. As soon as I get him to write it down, of course.

  9. James O. Born11/23/2009 10:25 AM

    I'm impressed. I wouldn't drive 45 minutes for an Olympic Medal.


  10. The best medicine, Anon.

    Louise, I so admire people who can throw a bunch of stuff in a pot and have it come out ambrosia. As for Angelenos driving 45 minutes, it's even whackier when you consider that it's only 6 miles.

    James O, you make me laugh.

  11. Alas, I cannot think of a chile cook-off without channeling Homer Simpson.

    What a gaggle of misadventures, Patty! As for the folk at the Farmer's Market: Bleep bleep. Seriously.

  12. Mims, do you have Homer's recipe? As for people rescheduling the meeting without telling you think they're trying to tell me something?

  13. In a pinch, I might have gone to Chili John's in Burbank, bought a pot full, and mailed it in.

    Confession. I have made chili with a combination of beef, veal and pork that is quite good. No beer, but I imagine that would be fine in the right portions.

  14. Paul, all of the chili places I found were in the Valley. What's up with that?

  15. Your post reminded me of one of my favorite recipes, the one for beer-battered salmon. The recipe calls for a six-pack of any beer. You open one, pour it in a bowl, and let it go flat. In the meantime you drink the other five. Later, when you’ve recovered, you proceed with the remaining steps of the recipe.

    Steve L.

  16. Patty:

    That's a great day as a friend of mine frequently reminds me "there are no bad experiences for a writer."

    I attended a chili cookoff and a friend of mine submitted this for the taste buds....delicious.

    This is a good basic white chili recipe that a friend made. There are a lot of opportunities for creativity here, but its a fine chili just like it is....enjoy

    Adrienne's White Chili

    2 lbs Chicken Breast
    1 can hot Rotel (in spice isle)
    1 medium onion
    2 tsp garlic powder
    1 tsp oregano
    3 cups chicken broth
    1 16 oz cream sour cream
    3 cans of Great White Norther Beans
    2 tsp minced garlic
    2 tsp cumin
    1/2 tsp salt
    Cayenne pepper to taste
    1 tbl oil

    grill roast, roast or boil chicken and shred
    Sautee Rotel, spices and onions w oil
    Mix all ingredients in crock pot and cook on medium heat for 1 hour stirring frequently

  17. Sounds awesome, Michael. I think I'll try it with leftover turkey.