Chilly outside? Put some chili inside

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chili season is upon us.

There is certainly a nip in the air, and if you're feeling that chill this weekend, you'll have ample opportunities to warm your insides with a delicious bowl of ... well, whatever you consider chili to be.

That always seems to be a topic of some contention. What exactly is chili?

For me, the essentials always seemed to be hamburger and beans in some sort of tomato-based mixture.

In the eyes of many Texans, however, I've already messed up ... twice. They say no beans, and usually no hamburger, preferring actual cubes of beef.

Does your version of chili contain pasta? If it does, then I say you're eating chili mac, not chili. But to each his own.

My boss, a Chicago native, prefers chili from his hometown to the more soupy mixtures preferred in small-town Indiana.

"You can stick a spoon in it and it stands straight up," he likes to point out.

I'll admit, that sounds pretty tasty.

I even had the chance to eat vegan chili once when I was in college. I didn't know it was OK to put vegans in soup.

(But, seriously, it was delicious, even without meat.)

In the Jernagan family, there's even a tradition of eating chili on a plate. It's strange, I now know, but I still recreate it occasionally, if only for old time's sake.

I also fancy myself a pretty good chili cook. What's my recipe? It depends on what I have on hand and how I'm feeling that day. However, there are a few essentials -- half sausage and half hamburger, black beans, beer (a bottle in the mixture and another in my hand) and cumin.

From there, it can take a lot of directions.

Thick or thin? They're both delicious.

Mild or spicy? Depends on my acid reflux that day.

And what goes well with chili? Saltines? Oyster crackers? Cheese? Sour cream? Onion? Fritos? Cornbread? Peanut butter sandwiches?

I have my preferences, but none of these are wrong.

I've thought before that it would be fun to take in a number of chili dinners in a row to see the variety of chili-making and chili-eating traditions.

That chance may be upon us. I was updating the community calendar on Monday, when I noticed a trend on Saturday, Oct. 26. Consider the following.

* From 1-6 p.m., New Maysville will be hosting its inaugural Soup and Song Fest. On the menu will be ham and beans, chili, cornbread and all the fixings, along with drinks and desserts. The event will also include live entertainment throughout the day.

* Between 4 and 8 p.m., The Son's Helping Hands clothing ministry, 5983 E. S.R. 240, will host its chili supper fundraiser for the fourth consecutive week. The added twist to this event is it's a chili cook-off, so you can enter a pot of your own or simply vote on which you think is best.

* Also from 4-8 p.m., the Reelsville Volunteer Fire Department will host its annual chili supper at the firehouse.

* Moving north to Bainbridge, the United Methodist Women will host a chili supper at the church from 5-7:30 p.m. Free will donations will be accepted.

* Finally, the annual Russellville Halloween Social begins at 5 p.m. at the Russellville Community Center. While chili isn't the only attraction, it is among the half dozen or so foods being served at an event that also features a masquerade with prizes, a carnival and door prizes.

So if you like chili, plan a tour of Putnam County on Saturday. Maybe you can't hit them all, but you can try. I won't put a plug in for any one in particular. They all look worth visiting to me.

Unfortunately, I will not have a chance to take in any of these dinners, as I will be out of town celebrating the birthday of my brother-in-law.

If you do choose to take in one or more of them, I have only one piece of advice: Do not judge, simply enjoy.

We all have our own chili traditions and the differences in those traditions should not be a source of division.

There are no wrong answers in chili.