It started with that trip through the bean aisle of Hyvee, when I picked up two 30 oz. cans of chili beans and said, "Yep. I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna take my chili to the Tomahawk chili supper."
I bought enough fixins to make a whole crockpot of chili. I bought ground beef that only had a few days left before it crossed over from "food" to "food byproduct. But a few days was all I needed. The chili supper was Wednesday.
And then the snow came. It closed the school and cancelled the chili supper. I quick-cooked the meat I had bought, and somewhere along the line, I used up two cans of petite diced tomatoes.
I was glad the chili supper had been put off. It was cold. I didn't want to be lugging my crockpot in and out of the car with all kinds of slippery terrain underfoot. I wanted to stay in and curl up into a ball.
A week went by, and the chili supper came around again. Its new, rescheduled date loomed. The day before, I got a frozen package of ground beef out of the freezer to thaw. The night before, I browned it. The package said, "Use or freeze by February 9th." Well, how do --it was February 9th. I'd made it just in time.
On chili supper morning, I rose early, a single lit window in a frozen world, and I dumped the ground beef I'd cooked the night before into a pot.I added 60 ounces of beans, 60 oz. of tomat...WHAT? Where are all my tomatoes? My petite diced tomatoes? I needed 4 cans. I only had two.
Oh well. Shrug. I couldn't get worked up about it at 6:00 in the morning. I added two packets of French's Mild Chili-O. I added a little water to the bottom of the bean and tomato cans, and swished out the residue at the bottom of each can, and poured it into the pot. That's an extra little step I take. That's how I show my chili love.
Next, I added my own special Mony mojo. My secret to making anything taste good is to throw in olive oil and whole cloves of garlic. Lasagna sauce: whole cloves of garlic. Beef stew: whole cloves of garlic. Dumpling soup: whole cloves of garlic. How my family members enjoy the surprise of biting into a whole clove of garlic.
I got ready for work and tried to think of clever chili names. The Mommers Chillers. An inside joke that no one else would understand. In our house, we put "ers" on the end of our words. (See, I told you-ers you wouldn't understand-ers.) I thought of Willy Nilly Chili. Cute, but misleading. There was nothing willy nilly about it. It was my standard boilerplate recipe. Milli Vanilli Chili. Bad choice. People will think it's a bunch of baloney.
"Chili, don't be a hero," I said casually to Roger. YEAHHHH!!! He said. He gave the name a thumbs up. It was a song everyone liked to make fun of. Everyone old enough to have lived through its popularity, that is. It was that perfect touch of irony that had my chili saying, "I don't have to take myself seriously. I'm that good."
After mixing and heating and brewing the chili to my satisfaction, I poured it into a crockpot, where it would simmer quietly for most of the day, until the afternoon, when it had to be taken to the school. The chili supper organizers had given parents only a narrow window. Bring your chili to the school cafeteria between 3:30 and 4:00, the red flyer ordered. There won't be any place to store your chili before 3:30!-- Deal with it, was the flyer's subtext. Sheesh. That put working parents into kind of a bind. But Roger would be getting home a little after 3:00, so he could take the chili in.
On the way to work I turned on the radio and heard a song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The thermometer I drove past said 0 degrees. Oh yeah! I'm glad we put off the chili supper until today because things have really warmed up!
On my lunch break, I went home and checked on my chili. It was a bit sludgey. A little heavy on the beans and spice. It really could have used more tomato. I should have picked some canned tomatoes up at the store on the way home. Why hadn't I thought of that? I looked around, but there wasn't anything that remembered it had once been a tomato, that was suitable. Red Thai curry paste? No. Taco sauce? No. Ragu? No. Those were unstable compounds that could significantly alter the character of my chili. I needed something more simple. The only thing we had on hand was ketchup.
I decided to try using the ketchup. But first I tested it. I put a little ketchup in a cup and added water and stirred them together. Then I added it to a small sample bowl of chili. It tasted --ketchupy. Not good. I added more chili to the test bowl, and stirred it well. Tried again. Okay, better. The ketchup cut the thick beaniness. Should I risk adding the ketchup to the crockpot? I could blow the whole works. I decided it was a chance I had to take. I squeezed more ketchup out in a cup, thinned it with water and poured it in. I didn't add that much--only about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of ketchup with a 1/2 to 2/3 cup of water.
Back at work I checked my e-mail. The Chili Supper organizers had sent out a fresh reminder. But there were new instructions. Your chili must be at the school by 3:30. (If you want it to be judged.)
Geez, these people leave no room for error! You can't bring it before 3:30 and you can't bring it after.
I decided I better call Roger. He was probably going to be all relaxed about things and mosey on up to the school with the chili at say, ten till 4:00. I had to let him know he couldn't relax.
It was about ten after 3:00. I called him on his cell. Thank goodness he answered.
"You have to get my chili to the school right away," I told him. "It has to be there by 3:30 for the judging." Roger sighed, and made some grumpy, indistinguishable noises before getting off the phone.
Heck yeah I wanted my chili to be judged. Because I have a confession to make. I thought my chili was good. After I added the ketchup to the crockpot and mixed it in good and gave it a few minutes to make itself at home, I tasted the chili. And I was pleased. It was thick, rich and tasty. "Yeah, that's a wrap," I said to myself.
Roger and Lilah and I went to the chili supper a little before 6:30. Annabelle was already at the school, working back to back shifts. We were in the hallway outside the cafeteria, paying for our chili tickets, when Annabelle came up and said, "Mom, your chili won."
"No way," I said. "You're making that up."
"No, I'm not!" Annabelle said. "You got best chili overall."
I was surprised, but in a way, I wasn't. Damn, I knew that chili was good!
My new status as Chili Queen became quickly apparent. I couldn't turn around without someone stopping to congratulate me. I approached the chili table, and there it was --my crockpot---adorned with its ribbon and medal. Glued onto the medal was a picture of a big, shiny metal pot of chili. I lifted the lid and saw that everyone loves a winner. The chili was almost gone.
Roger scooped up a ladle of my chili before it ran out. He pointed to a white object floating in the broth, with a mixture of amusement and disbelief. "Is that a garlic clove? Did you put whole garlic cloves in the chili?"
"Yes!" I said proudly. Lilah rolled her eyes and shook her head.
Yes, whole garlic cloves and Hunt's Ketchup. But hey - who is the queen here? You don't argue with success.