Chili – A Spicy Meal for A Bittersweet Season’s End

It’s always bittersweet, closing our Endless Mountain cottage for the season. We don’t get there enough even in season as far as I’m concerned, so this quick hello and goodbye is almost painful.

Our busy schedule in the city means we do not arrive till after dark on Saturday. Only one other house in our little enclave has lights on, and it feels strange and deserted – so different from summer.

The season is farther along here on the mountain – The trees are already bare and the back porch is awash in 3 inches of leaves. We can see our breath even in the house, and the olive oil on the kitchen shelf is thick and cloudy. Fortunately, the water is still flowing freely through the pipes. We start a roaring fire in the fireplace and set to work making a pot of chili for dinner.

A few minutes after Mr TBTAM heads off down the mountain for a few last minute ingredients, the power goes off, leaving me in darkness. I manage to quickly reset the circuit breakers in the electric panel on the front porch and then, feeling a bit unsettled, call my older brother Al on FaceTime to keep me company while I cook until Mr TBTAM returns. This was probably not a good idea, because every few minutes Al interrupts the conversation to ask me “What’s that face at your kitchen window?” (Big brothers never change…)

Finally Mr TBTAM returns. We forgo the frigid dining room and eat our chili from bowls while sitting together on the love seat that we have pulled over in front of the fireplace. It’s too cold to move much farther from the fire, so we just spend the rest of the evening on the love seat, reading. A few more electrical resets later (the blower attachment on the fireplace insert was the culprit) the baseboard heaters are finally cranking up and we retire, gratefully, to a warm bedroom.

Sunday dawns bright and unseasonably warm, and we set to work. I strip the beds, wipe down the bathrooms, empty the fridge and kitchen cabinets, scrub down and unplug the fridge, and sweep the kitchen floor. Having seen a few droppings on the kitchen shelf that morning, I decide to set a few mousetraps for our seasonal guests. Mr TBTAM runs the laundry and rakes the yard – an enormous job that takes him all morning. Then our neighbor offers me his leaf blower and I do the back deck and patio – a job that usually takes an entire afternoon –  in 30 minutes! We stop midway through our labors for another bowl of chili – this time sitting on the porch in the warm sun admiring the fruits of our labors. After that, we bring the porch furniture and bikes into the house, make one final sweep and get into the car for the long ride home.

Another season in the Endless Mountains has come to a close. Every year I fantasize about winterizing the place, but seeing (and feeling) the place so deserted has convinced me that I prefer to leave it as it is  – my little Brigadoon, disappearing in late fall and reappearing in Spring.

Basic Chili

While there are a lot more complex recipes out there, ours is a very basic chili. The recipe below is heavier on the meat than the beans, but we vary it.  You can substitute a 12 oz can of tomato sauce for the tomato paste and water. Add a second can of beans if you want to stretch it for a larger crowd.  Serve over rice to stretch it even more, and add a side salad for a complete meal. I’ve fallen in love with sheep’s milk yogurt and no longer use sour cream to top mine.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, medium dice
  • 1 large green pepper, medium dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 1-28 oz can whole tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato paste +1  cup water, beef broth or beer
  • 1-15 oz can red kidney beans, rinsed
  • 2-4 tsp Chili powder to taste (some brands are spicier than others)
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin (optional)
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup sheep’s milk yogurt or sour cream
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Cooking Directions

Heat oil in large pot and saute onions and peppers till soft (about 5 mins). Add garlic and saute another minute. Add ground beef and saute, breaking it up with a wooden spoon,  till no longer pink. Add remainder of ingredients and cook for 30 minutes over medium-low heat. Serve hot in bowls with with cheddar cheese and sour cream or yogurt topping.

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