"Nate! Do you like chili?" asked my neighbor from the other side of the backyard fence. I figured she was going to hand me a couple of one-gallon containers of some of her home cookin' as she is known to do from time to time. My obvious reply: "Yeah."
She informed me that there was a chili cook-off on the next block. Despite the fact that I had plans within the next hour, I knew where I had to go. I even grabbed a pocket-sized notebook to take notes but quickly realized I'd look like an ass in front of all the neighbors I hadn't met before, as I scribbled observations about their culinary efforts. Besides, I didn't want to step on the toes of the "real" food writer who was rumored to be there.
Being without notes, I wondered how I'd even write about all of the chili I tasted. Then I decided that no neighborhood chili is worth review. I'd just write about the experience of attending a surprise chili cook-off. Here's what I remember about wandering down Ferndale's Woodland street on Saturday.
First stop: Garden chili, hangover chili, and something chili. Despite its name, garden chili is not vegetarian. Sure, it had yellow squash in it, but it also had venison. On to the hangover chili. If I had remembered to vote for my favorite chili, this would have been it. It was spicy, but not so spicy that eating it would make me look one of those guys who proclaims he loves spicy food, bro, as his face turns read and he begins sweating profusely. I also picked up some not-so-subtle notes of garlic, once again proving my point that all the best foods are ones that you couldn't eat on a first date. As it turns out, hangover chili was not made to cure hangovers. It was made by a guy who had a hangover, and his hangover apparently gave him great epicurean wisdom.
A few stops later, I was at a house where a bunch of hippies*** were hanging out. There was a chili labeled #17 (all participating chilis are numbered) and an Indian chili. That's Indian like curry, not like "we stole your land." There were some cute but unfriendly girls standing by #17 who did not reciprocate when I introduced myself, but I tried it any way. The experience of consuming #17 was like eating solid water at room temperature. All the ingredients had textures, but there was no flavor whatsoever. Water seeped out of various mushy shapes with each bite. This was clearly vegetarian, if not vegan or maybe even "freegan." Shame on you, #17. I took this as a sign to skip the Indian chili.
After my experience with the water-chili, I began to notice just how many hippies were around. What were all these hippies doing at a chili cook-off? I thought hippies were "cruelty free." Perhaps they only ate free-range beef. Maybe they were just trying to scam some grub 'cause the man's keepin' them down.
Continuing up the block I ran into Chris, a fellow Vespa rider, but not before trying a sample of "chili cheese cake." Until now I struggled to describe it, but now I realize that it pretty much tasted like key lime pie, which is sort of disconcerting.
Any way, Chris was with his girlfriend and some other friends. They turned out to be responsible for the Indian Chili, so I went back to try it. I can't even remember what it tasted like, so take that as you will.
As our travels continued, I tried all kinds of unremarkable chili and a few spicy kinds that tasted like they had booze in them. For some reason, people think that adding booze to food increases its refinement . Maybe it stems from never abandoning the 14-year-old mentality of "Mem-Mem and Pep-Pep made one of those rum cakes for the family reunion and I think I got drunk off it!" Straight liquor tastes bad enough as it is, so why would you want to have that flavor without the intoxicating benefits of alcohol?
Toward the end of my odyssey, we ran into Amber and Other Nate with their awesome dogs. The dogs asserted that they were indeed young and energetic, then everyone started talking about houses they wanted to buy and I took that as my cue to leave.
And, somehow, I didn't get gas or experience any after-burn.
***Chris has pointed out to me that I probably have a loose definition of what a hippy is. No offense is meant, though I tend to inadvertently offend people when writing about other humans so I should probably watch it.