Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fun Food Facts to Know and Tell Part Two

Speaking of good places to live (see FFF #1), here in Texas there is a debate raging on at any given time about the origins of that mythical bowl of red - Chili. Around here ordinarily polite folks can get incensed and offended at the drop of a Stetson just talking about whether or not any concoction with beans in it technically qualifies for inclusion in the term. We try not to even get started about tomatoes. It's easier, more acceptable, to talk about sex, politics, or even religion, and still stay friends.

If you bring up green bell peppers and chili in the same breath, you are declaring yourself a damned Yankee and you might find yourself advised not to be venturing into such territorial spats. If the advisor is of a kindly variety you may be informed that once you've lived here for 10-15 years or so you'll "know better".

In this case knowing better means you'll have learned never to broach the topic without a cold beer on hand to judiciously sip, pausing occasionally only to make noncommittal monosyllabic consonant noises. Frowning slightly while offering "Mmmmmm" works pretty well in most cases. If seriously pressed for an opinion, you should immediately respond that you hear your Mother calling you into another county and simply leave the premises. The friendship you save may be your own.

How and where did chili get it's start? One story claims chili originated when folks from the Canary Islands who were "transplanted" (a PC term retroactively applied to people who were more likely kidnapped into slavery) developed the dish in the San Antonio area around the beginning of the 19th century. They reportedly used a variety of peppers in combination with locally available inexpensive ingredients (aka tough cuts of meat) to complement cumin and other spices they'd brought with them.

Supposedly by the middle of the 19th century, "brightly attired Chili Queens" were selling bowls of red that would remove the enamel from cars (if either had been invented yet), all around San Antonio's Military Plaza every night from carts and stalls.

"Brightly Attired Chili Queens". Sounds like a great theme for San Antonio's Pride Parade next year, don't you think?

As to my personal version of "chili"? Shhhh - don't tell, but I do use beans in mine. I started making it that way as a young bride, in Houston. We were experiencing zero based budgeting month to month and there is nothing like pinto beans to stretch a dish.

Now "con frijoles" is the way chili is supposed to taste when I make it. It is "Wilson Way". I tried monkeying with my basic recipe from time to time but family members come to expect a certain dish to taste a certain way when it is a regular feature in the dinner lineup. I can no more change how I fix chili now than I can switch around when we open our Christmas presents. It just won't fly any other way.

So there you have it. Enough food fun for one day at least.

Oh wait, except for this -since we're just getting acquainted in this particular arena, I should warn you I'm not going to verify, much less get exhaustive with listing sources for this kind of "information". If you are one of those wary types who demands proof, this won't be your venue at all. But if you like casual snippets about where things come from and comments on some of the mythology of certain dishes, I'm your go to gal.

Later today I get to go hunter-gathering with My Son the Chef after which he has promised to prepare and serve us a 5 course meal to fete his baby sister in honor of her 24th birthday.

As far as I am concerned, doing the dishes will be a flat out privilege under these circumstances. If I was any giddier at the prospect I'd have to hold weights in each hand to keep my feet on the ground. I've got serving dishes ready, a new tablecloth, wine cooling and I'll buy and arrange fresh flowers as part of the fun. Doesn't get much better for me.

Can the event possibly live up to my anticipatory glee? Will my grown children share the spotlight nicely? All reasonable concerns but my real question is this.

We have spent some pretty extravagant amounts in the past couple of years in various Austin eateries to celebrate special occasions. The experiences were worth it, memories as well as amazing food and wine, but I am wondering now. It is really less expensive to buy our own fresh ingredients, cook and eat in, or will the bottom line be comparable to a pricey restaurant meal for the same number of people in one of Austin's spiffier restaurants? Stay tuned.

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