After my brother roasted our chicken upside down, resulting in crispy legs and butter-sodden breasts, I recycled the white meat in a pasta sauce. When we failed to eat the whole pot, I dreamt a lazy lunch. Five tablespoons of powdered peppers and tomato sauce switches to chili. It’s a quick-change act that relies on illusion: realer, righteous chili requires a more rigorous (though possibly less alliterative) approach. Nevertheless, a close approximation of Texas, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Washington, etc. can be achieved with a passive raffle through the spice cabinet.
We needed beans, so we walked to the corner deli. I have been buying Caribbean groceries with the mania of a bomb shelter visionary; I want to work my way through a goat carcass, sample every brand of ginger beer, and bake my own sweet rolls. Last night, I settled for a simple substitution: peas for beans. Instead of kidneys or pintos, I bought pigeon peas, more commonly found in Caribbean renditions of “rice and peas” than heartland chili recipes. Firmer and chalkier than my usual bean choices, the pigeon peas were a striking contrast to cooked tomato, shredded chicken, and soft garlic. At work, I ate the “chili” out of Tupperware and picked chicken neck bones off my tongue. None of my co-workers looked twice. Continue reading