Chili on an Autumn Day

In the stories my parents tell about when they were growing up, a lot of them revolve around food.

Both of my parents came from large families. Mom’s family always bought food at a discount food store, which meant that often the labels had been ripped off the cans. She and her siblings would shake the cans and try to guess what was inside, hoping to avoid the nastier veggies. One time they got a can of dog food.

Dad’s mother had a habit of throwing everything together into a big casserole – veggies, starches, soups, and spices. They never got exactly the same thing twice.

I was learning how to cook before I learned how to wash dishes. I can follow a recipe just fine, but I’m also pretty good at winging it. On occasion, things don’t turn out very pretty, but it’s rare. All last week I survived on stir-fry because the ingredients we had in the cupboard and fridge all pointed to that. Also, because I love rice and I’m coming to love spicy food.

One of the best examples of my family’s habit of winging it with food is our chili. We don’t have a recipe. We just throw things in until it looks and tastes good and that’s that. There is an average flavor and texture, but it all depends on what we have on hand and what we decided to pick up at the store. Once we brought supplies for chili to a camping trip with friends, and in addition to the usual ingredients we added shredded meat from the previous day’s supper.

All day yesterday the sky was gray, though it didn’t rain until last night. Now there’s a steady drizzle outside and it’s almost chilly again. For a week we’ve had the supplies for chili and everyone has been begging for it. Since I’m home all the time, I’m in charge of food, and the weather dictated that today would be chili day. The family does have a few agreed-upon requirements when it comes to chili:

  • the hamburger must be chunky, not finely ground
  • there must be a lot of beans
  • the overall consistency must be more thick than thin
  • we use cocoa powder to cut down the acidity from the tomatoes
  • it needs to be a little spicy, but only so much that everyone can tolerate it – Eliot always adds his own hot sauce to his bowl
  • there must be sour cream, shredded cheese, and olives on hand, and Fritos are a huge bonus

There’s a reason we usually win a place in the chili cook-off at church. We call it different things every year – roadkill chili, chili a la chocolate, hillbilly chilly – but we keep the ingredients and the method the same.

I spent an hour this morning getting everything into the slow roaster, set it on simmer, and sent pictures out to the family. This chili won’t see the weekend.

Being able to cook real food is one of the perks of being home all the time. I definitely need to make a point of exercising now because of it, of course. I’ve always felt good about being able to make my own food and know how much more I need for everyone else to get some. I can see how it helps the general mood of the house when people can come home from work and don’t have to immediately think about what to make for supper.

That’s the goal I’m going for lately: making everyone else’s lives a little easier. I struggled with that the first few weeks of being home. I’m used to being self-sufficient, but not having to consider how my choices really affect everyone else. I would get up, grab breakfast, go to work, go shopping for my own food and clothes after, maybe take my dog on a walk, grab supper, perhaps wash a few dishes, do my own laundry, and go to bed. Everyone else did the same, and in the little time we had left over after spending time with each other, the house would be cleaned. It made things difficult for everyone.

And then I had days like yesterday, where I took everything out of the fridge and spent the better part of two hours scrubbing it from top to bottom because some caramel topping had spilled from the top shelf all the way down. After that I washed all the dishes and ran laundry (not just my own), make mini quiches for everyone to grab on their way out the door in the mornings, and cleaned my own room to boot.

I’ve said before that I tend to measure my value based on how much I accomplish in a day. Perhaps it’s not the best way to live, but it’s become a decent motivator. I kept telling myself not to stop yesterday while I had so much momentum built up, and the look on Mom’s face when she came in made it worth it. (And Jo literally danced for joy about the quiches.)

Another thing I always do is wonder how God may use the experiences I’m gaining in life. Lately, between my old job and taking care of Gram, I fell like I’m being prepped for running a children’s home in a dangerous country run by dictators.

I’ve made a point this year to try new things and expand my abilities and self-sufficiency. If Mom would allow it and we could afford it, I would almost consider getting a goat. Or bees. That could be fun.

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