Actually, what I’m taking is my Grandma’s chili. We have a long history, chili and I. Because my dad was foreman on a ranch and we kids were a good part of the crew we never could take family vacations in the summer. Instead, we vacationed by driving 2200 miles, through snow, through sleet, over ice, to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Wisconsin.
It took us four days to get there, and we always seemed to arrive at suppertime. We’d pull up to their house, our car tires crunching and squeaking over the snow. Grandma would have heard us and opened the back door, the one that led directly into her kitchen. We would walk up the golden path of light to her exhuberant, slightly sticky hug, then past her, and up the three inside steps to her bright yellow kitchen.
And into the heady aroma of chili, because that was what Grandma made us, always, for our first night at her house, chili, with soft San Francisco Italian bread, topped with sesame seeds. Because it was Grandma’s kitchen we scavenged for bowls in her drainer (I can never remember opening a cupboard door for any reason), found spoons, got the butter out of the refrigerator, slathered it on the bread, then carried our steaming, fragrant bowls into the TV room to eat with our cousins.
Grandma’s chili is comfort food, food that carries in its heart the promise of warmth in winter, bright kitchens on winter nights, and hugs that knock the wind out of you. Grandma’s chili is the good part of family.
I’ve carried on Grandma’s tradition. When family comes to visit me I greet them with hugs, with comfort when it’s needed, and with a pot of chili simmering on the stove. And somehow, for all of us, the three things–love, comfort, and chili–have become inextricably linked.
On Saturday, I will be taking chili and Italian bread to the Carters. When they heat it up and its fragrance spreads through the house I hope a little of my Grandma’s spirit drifts on the spicy steam, offering them hugs, comfort, and the assurance that while life may end, love remains. It is just passed from hand to hand, and served up in melmac bowls, with heavily buttered Italian bread.
Here’s my Grandma’s chili recipe–this is from the Someone’s in the Kitchen Family Cookbook. Click for a larger image.