If you’ve ever visited my house, you would’ve noticed that the shelves are lined with plenty of books, a lot of them having to do with food. Over the years my parents have acquired a good number of cookbooks. Growing up, I was exposed to varied cuisine at lunch and dinner.
In addition to all the books, my parents had a huge collection of cooking equipment, and different appliances to serve food on. Some of these “artifacts” were supposed to be given away, like at weddings in the 1970s, for example. It just so happened that Mom or Dad forgot to bring the package, and so the object got absorbed into our collection of curios.
Cooking for our friends is very memorable; it is a multi-family-member affair. The books come off the shelves, the appliances get dusted off, and as many hands as possible are put to work, whether for peeling garlic or for rubbing spices on meat. With so much going on, it is not a question of whether tension will arise; it is when.
The fur flies when gravy is not given enough time on the saucepan to thicken appropriately. Logic is pointedly questioned when an oven is not properly preheated to the right temperature. Voices are raised when a metal spatula is used on a teflon pan.
It is at these times that I am happy our friends and other family members are not around to witness what happens in our kitchen. They may tell us to not cook for them ever again. Food is taken very seriously at home. After all, what is doing something when it is not done right?
When the dish finally reaches the plates of our loved ones, it is inevitably asked: “How did you make this?”
The usual reply: “It was a happy accident.”
And then we eat, eat, and eat… And then we talk about food until it is time for our guests to leave.
One of the things that I look for on rainy days is a good bowl of chili. Mom made it a couple times when I was in grade school, and I enjoyed it very much with baked potatoes. To me, the mix of the saltiness of the meat and sauce with the warm inside of the baked potato was one of life’s simple pleasures.
Mom subsequently made it on different occasions, and there were always leftovers, which I liked. There was one week where I had nothing else for breakfast and dinner. (It seems this is a thing with us. One Christmas Mom made sans rival with so much butter that no one else would touch it. She ended up eating it for every meal for the rest of the holidays. She even lost weight doing so.)
Chili was always something I associated with rainy days, as those were the back-to-school days. Because we didn’t wake up early enough to have breakfast at home, it was something to eat in the car on the way to school.
By the time my brother and I hit college, Mom had either moved on to other recipes or we just weren’t around often enough for her to want to cook. At this point in life, Dad, except in cases when he felt vitamin deficiencies, did not really care what was on his plate so long as he had his newspaper.
The first time I tried to make chili for myself was when I joined a mountaineering club. It wasn’t for climbing up a mountain with, though, it was for a Halloween party I threw one time. People liked it. They even overlooked the fact that I wasn’t in costume for my own party.
I eventually did bring it up to a mountain, and it was one of the easiest meals ever to unpack and eat. One of our group mates even forgot he had gout, and was in pain the rest of the night before sleeping, unfortunately. (I’m tweaking my beanless chili as I write this.)
When I worked at a corporation, I brought chili on occasions when there was something to celebrate, and my office mates enjoyed it a lot. Even if some of them thought it was amoy-bumbay, they still ate it. The memory never fails to bring a smile to my face.
My fiancee’s family always asks for seconds, and I am quite flattered each time they break their diet routines just for a bowl of it.
Truly, this is one recipe that hasn’t failed yet to bring people together.
Perhaps one reason I love this recipe so much is the fact that it is slow-cooked. Even if you make a mistake at one point, the cooking process still somehow combines the flavors in a good way. This makes for interesting results each time you make it.
The more I cook chili, the more I find it has the peculiar property of imbibing my particular feelings for certain groups of friends. How so? I might burn the tomatoes for one, or be a bit heavy-handed with the spice for another. But the method of cooking the dish never fails to bring out the best characteristics each time. It is the food equivalent of a talented politician.
I think the No. 1 reason I love cooking this recipe is the fact that you have to leave it alone for a long time to get the best out of it. To date, I’ve never cooked chili in less than six hours.
Once all the ingredients are in the pot, that leaves me a lot of time to sit around, or do other things. If I’m cooking for my office mates, I leave it alone and rest for the next day. If I’m at my fiancee’s house, we leave it alone and play with the cats. If I’m cooking it for a party, I get to cook other things while waiting.
These days, time separates me and my friends like never before. We run in so many different circles now, and yes, it takes much time and energy to bring us all back together. But then, friends really are worth waiting for. There’s always something new to talk about each time we meet up. With my chili, it’s always a treat to see how the flavor has changed since the last time I opened the lid.
When I finally am able to dole it out at gatherings, I’m very happy that I’m able to share something that took much time, much love, and much patience to make. For friends and family, I can’t think of a better philosophy to live by.
Chili does me good, and I do good chili!
Martin Sy-Quia, 27, works full-time at his business, facebook.com/CanleysCuisine. He says they do different kinds of chili con carne, all slow-cooked.
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