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I like birthdays. I believe in birthday weeks and the honoree being able to dictate the entire day. I love all that birthdays symbolize and celebrating life and how special a person feels when everyone who loves them tells them that they’re thankful that they were born. I am especially fond of a day that serves as an excuse to eat some form of treats with every meal.

I know so many people who hate birthdays—people who feel like if they ignore the day all together, they can somehow manage to avoid the fact that they are, no matter their attempts at reversal, aging. I’ve never agreed but I understand; mortality is uncomfortable to think about— let alone, accept. But, and though it may be morbid, the fact is that the alternative to celebrating a birthday and aging is… well… death. So many people aren’t afforded the luxury of celebrating another birthday so I make the effort to not take the gift of aging and living for granted by ignoring its inevitability or hopelessly attempting to avoid it.

Birthdays also present the perfect opportunity to reflect and to set intentions for the year ahead. Last night at dinner, Joe asked me how I’m feeling going into this next year and, for what seems like the first time in a very long time, I could honestly say that I feel utter contentment. Being able to say that— and actually mean it— feels like the ultimate accomplishment after this last year. Nothing dramatic happened this last year; rather, this last year provided me 365 days of opportunities to face myself in the mirror and sort out my shit. Not one single area of my life was exempt from strife— motherhood, my marriage, my family, my friendships, my mental and physical health, et. al. This merely means that who I am within every single facet and role of my life was given another chance to know better, to do better, and to expand and grow from the person I was the day before.

Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? When you face trials, you hope that you’re able to learn from it, coming to know better, and then— ideally—to do better. What I’ve realized this year is that any alternative is, to some degree, self-sabotage and the process of doing is a choice.

Ultimately, in spite of what may happen to us in life, we can only control how we react and how we use the experience to our advantage (or disadvantage) moving forward. More simply, happiness IS a choice. I used to cringe when people would say that to me or I’d run across it on Instagram under a picture of some perfectly curated messy kitchen or tropical sunrise.

HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE. How very novel.

I’d always think, It must be easy for you to say when you’re not clinically fucking depressed. It must be easy for you to say when you haven’t slept in seven years. Easy for you to say when you haven’t gone through trauma or sexual abuse or insert any X, Y, or Z that makes it easier for me to justify not being happy.

But, as it turns out, they were right. Happiness is an active choice and a learned skill that we have the ability to train just like anything else.

I can choose happiness by deciding to overcome the things that often make happiness seem like an elitist, privileged goal. I can choose happiness by not allowing life and all of its’ challenges to distract me from all that remains in in my life to be happy about. I can choose happiness by showing gratitude for every thing and every person that matters to me, always. I can choose happiness by showing empathy for others because I remember all too well what it’s like to be in the dark. I can choose happiness by keeping life’ challenges in perspective and focusing on the good that can and will come from any bad. I can choose happiness by leaning into discomfort because I know that the only way out is through. I can choose happiness by doing more things that make me feel good about myself and avoiding things/situations/people that make me feel badly.

I can choose to be happy because I deserve happiness and firmly believe that it’s always within my grasp so long as I do the things required of me that aid my holding onto it.

This isn’t to say that I don’t choose to acknowledge or continue to experience the darker parts of life or choose to pretend like shittiness doesn’t exist or bury my head in the sand until the problem goes away. Life happens and will continue to find creative and successful ways to get me down. But that truth only exists on the opposite side of the same coin where happiness lives. I don’t necessarily want both but the fact is that I need both in order to distinguish one from the other and to appreciate one when faced with its alternative.

As I enter into this next revolution around the sun, my only intention of consequence is to continue doing better now that I know better. I’ll do that by holding myself accountable to making happiness my choice. No matter the situation making happiness the more difficult route, I must remember that it’s still a choice I will always remain solely in control of making.

Life is beautiful, friends.

Go celebrate it, go do better, and choose happiness.

Cheers to another one…

x, C

forage + fodder | chili for a (large) crowd

So, I love chili. I love eating it. I love standing in front of a stove and watching the alchemy of flavors and textures come together to create an earthy, warm, flavorful bowl of comforting perfection. And, most importantly, I love warming the bellies and souls of the people I love most. For me, chili often serves as a springboard for fellowship and gathering with the people you feel comfortable enough to fart in front of. I mean, it’s chili and if chili is good for anything, it’s good for flavor and guaranteed flatulence.

Yesterday afternoon, we invited all of Joe’s family over to partake in an evening of Wii and a few competitive rounds of Blockus. Side note: have you ever played Blockus? I am obsessed. My mom and I stayed up until almost midnight last night practicing strategy. Hashtag nerds. Anyway, those who didn’t play games watched football. Personally, I don’t understand the appeal of this particular time-honored brutish American pastime nor do I have an emotional attachment to any specific team. Which brings me to this chili. Let’s be honest, shall we? Good food will always be the main event in my house and I’m far more likely to be found hovering over my stove, making culinary magic happen than I am to be found planted on the sofa in front of the tv cursing at grown men who get paid millions of dollars to throw or catch a leather ball while an entire group of enemies are charging at them. *shakes head*

Anyway, this year, one goal I set for myself was to start writing down my recipes. I am notoriously lazy when it comes to following and/or documenting recipes since I very rarely— if ever— make the same thing the exact same way twice. As a result, your guess is usually as good as mine as to how I made something. But not today, friends. Yesterday, I managed to get my shit together enough to write down the method to my culinary chili madness in real time in case you’d like to try it out. Go me! Yay you!

However, here is where I admit that this recipe isn’t entirely my own and give credit where credit is due. This chili was inspired by my best friend, April, who made an amazing red beef chili for her son’s first birthday party last year which lead me to beg her for the recipe ever since. It only took me a little over a year of annoying her but she finally gave in. (Take that, Apes!!! I WIN!!!) Naturally, I didn’t follow her recipe as it was written BUT the chili I made is very similar to hers. I only added a few other spices and a bottle of lager because what is chili without beer? And before you balk at the pumpkin and cinnamon and cacao, please just trust me. The combination of the three add such an unexpected sweet smokiness that lends itself so well to such an earthy and savory dish like chili.

So, give it a shot and let me know what you think!


NOTE: This recipe makes enough for a rather large crowd. If you’re making it for your family on a random Tuesday, you could easily divide the recipe by 4 and have the perfect amount for a deliciously comforting weeknight dinner. OR, better yet, you could go ahead and make the quantity my recipe calls for and freeze half (or more) for a rainy, lazy day in the future when you just don’t feel like cooking. That’s the beauty of chili: you can do whatever the hell you want and it’ll almost certainly still be amazing. ENJOY!!!!

chili.jpeg

Chili For A Crowd

serves 16, +/- depending on how hearty your guests’ appetites are

prep time: 15 minutes

active cooking time: 35 minutes

non-active cooking time: 15 minutes

total time in the kitchen: 60ish minutes



Chili

ChiliIngredients.jpg

8 tbsp olive oil

1 red bell pepper

2 green bell peppers

2 sweet onions

8 cloves of garlic

4 lbs 85/15 ground beef (organic and grass-fed if you can find/afford it)

3 tbsp double concentrated tomato paste

3 dashes of liquid smoke (optional but I love the deep earthiness it lends)

1- 16oz box of pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie puree-- two very different things!!)

homemade spice mix (see below)

1-16oz bottle of any lager of your liking (I used Dos Equis)(can substitute beef bone broth if you don’t drink)

4- 15oz cans diced fire roasted tomatoes (do not drain liquid)

2- 15oz cans pinto beans

2- 15oz cans red kidney beans

2- 15oz cans black-eyed peas

2-3 tbsp kosher salt depending on personal preference

for serving: cilantro, sour cream, avocado, sharp cheddar cheese,

sliced jalapeños, tortilla chips, lime wedges, grilled fresh corn sliced off the cob

OH and beer to drink, duh




Homemade Chili Spice Mix

8 tbsp mild chili powder

1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp smoked paprika

4 tsp dried oregano

2.5 tsp cumin powder

a small pinch of cayenne pepper

PREP WORK:

-In a food processor, pulse the onions, green and red bell peppers, and cloves of garlic until all are finely chopped but not mushy, set aside.

-Combine spices in a small bowl, set aside

-Open, drain, and rinse beans in a colander, set aside.

-Open cans of diced tomatoes and pop the top of the beer, set both aside.


ACTUAL WORK:

ChiliForACrowd.jpg

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the pepper and onion mixture and cook until fragrant and translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add the ground beef, combine with the sautéed pepper mixture, and cook until all browned, about 10 to 12 minutes. Once the beef and pepper mixture are cooked through and thoroughly combined, add the tomato paste; stir until paste coats meat and veggies thoroughly. Next, add the spice mix and stir, cooking for 4-5 minutes to depend the flavor of the spices.

Next, Add the dashes of liquid smoke (if you’re choosing to use it) and the can of pumpkin puree. Stir to combine. Pour in the beer. Cook for 3-4 minutes to cook off the alcohol. Pour in all four cans of diced tomatoes and stir to combine. Lastly, add the six cans of beans. Bring chili back up to a simmer and cook on low with the lid cracked for 12-15 minutes to allow all of the flavors to merry.

Finally, turn off the heat and begin seasoning the chili with salt to taste*.

Ladle into bowls and allow everyone to add their own chili accoutrements as they see fit.



ENJOY!!!



*NOTE: I find it best to add one tablespoon of kosher salt at time, tasting after each. Three tablespoons of salt may sound like a lot but this recipe makes A LOT of chili and the combination of just hearty ingredients demand salt in order to ensure that your chili doesn’t taste like dirty dishwater. Salt is what brings this recipe to life and it’s a necessary part of cooking. In the words of Ina Garten, remember that you can always add more but you can’t take salt away. I tend to like my food on the saltier side so I stopped after three tbsp but it’s always better to ere on the side of caution with salt so you don’t ruin what you just spend an hour creating. Ya heard?!