The Great Chili Controversy

It’s November. . .the time of year when we’re all thinking about “hot” topics.  As American citizens, we’re thinking quite a lot about the Presidential election.  But, as Westerners, we have our minds on a far more controversial topic than tax plans and healthcare reform; after all, IT’S CHILI SEASON!

Yes, it’s that happy time of year when tempers flare, almost as wildly as do taste buds. There are heated discussions and passionate debates. There may be discord among family members, and neighbors may be scarcely able to keep a civil tongue.  (Yes, I’m still talking about chili!)

If you want to see some real fireworks, ask the following questions to any group of people living west of the Mississippi:

■ Is chili with beans really chili?
■ Is there really such a thing as white chili, or is that just something created by the Liberal cooking shows?
■ Saltines, cornbread or Fritos?
■ Chunks of beef or ground beef?
■ Should chili be eaten with a dollop of sour cream or is that sacrilege?
■ Is vegetarian chili an oxymoron or is it just moronic?
■ Mild or spicy?

Chili is an issue of  epic proportions, which has led me to ponder how we might possibly harness that power, and put it to good use.  Could we perhaps use it to overhaul our entire electoral system? Instead of debates on pesky issues such as jobs or immigration, Presidential candidates could be asked their thoughts on chili. You can really tell a lot about a person by his chili preference, you know!

Then, instead of endless months of campaigning and debating, Presidential candidates could just face each other for a real match of wits . . . a chili cook off! Picture it!  Candidates could be given one day and all of the ingredients their hearts desire to create a killer chili, one sure to get them elected to the White House!  They could spend the day throwing in a dash of this and a dash of that, stirring, simmering and tasting. Finally, voters could line up and sample the entries.  This is still in the planning stages, so bear with me. I have yet to work out how every voter will be able to attend.

Chili cook offs are practically a fall and winter sporting event in the West.  A Presidential cook off would allow the rest of the nation to know what we in the West have known to be true for generations . . . chili matters! Chili  is a topic the entire unified nation can rally behind. It would be interesting to see if candidates might flip-flop on certain chili nuances depending upon the audience, but I digress.

While I would not normally share such personal information in a public arena, I’ve been thinking about my own answers to all of the important chili questions. I have done some major soul searching and here’s my official position on chili . . .  I can accept that ”real” chili has no beans. However, I enjoy beans in a bowl of what would otherwise be chili. The same is true for white chili, chicken chili and vegetarian chili. I find them spicy and delightful (although that probably has some chili connoisseurs outraged). Give them another name and I would still enjoy them.  A bowl of hot goodness by any other name is still delicious!

Saltines, cornbread and Fritos can each make for a nostalgic, chili-dining experience. Truth be told, I would probably choose a jalapeno cornbread to accompany my chili. While some purists will say that toppings have no place on chili, I enjoy them. Some grated jack cheese and some extra peppers should have a place on any chili-like substance.

Since it is obviously too late to change the handling of this upcoming Presidential election, and since the Founding Fathers would likely have disapproved of my suggestion of a Presidential Chili Cook-off , I am willing to table my proposal.  However, I do have a sudden and irresistible urge to attend a local chili cook-off, right about now!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

Dia de los Muertos

“The Mexican is familiar with death. (He) jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.”

                                         Octavio Paz, Mexican writer and diplomat, 1914 – 1998

It is interesting that one of the most fascinating and mystical of Mexican holidays, La Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, is actually less about death than it is about life.  At it’s core lay an essential aspect of the Mexican identity . . .  embracing death as a part of the cycle of life, as Octavio Paz has so eloquently expressed in the quote above. This elaborate holiday is no longer exclusively Mexican, however.  It has woven itself into the culture of the American West, bringing with it more pomp than Mardi Gras and more haunting figures than Halloween.

La Dia de los Muertos is a day to honor those who have passed from this earth, to remember them and to rejoice in their lives.  It is believed that at the stroke of midnight on October 31st, the gates of heaven are thrown open and the souls of deceased children visit their earthly families for twenty-four hours. On November 2nd, the souls of deceased adults visit to enjoy the festivities. And, boy, are there festivities!

The celebration of La Dia de los Muertos occurs in the home and in the cemetery amid bouquets of flowers, banquets of bread, and ghostly candies ornamented with skulls.  As the spirits of the deceased visit, it is believed that they also enjoy their favorite food and drink, called ofrendas, lavishly laid out on altars and shrines.  There are tortillas, meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, candies and Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead breads). There are also sodas, hot chocolate, water and tequila. And no Day of the Dead altar would be complete without intricate sugar skulls, sugar skeletons and small, vibrantly colored, sugar coffins, which are sold at Feria de Alfinique, sugar skull fairs . Lux Perpetua, votive candles, flame day and night, illuminating the wild marigold flowers, Flor de Muertos, which adorn the altars and the graves. Photographs of the departed are placed, everywhere. Toys are left for the youthful spirits. Cigarettes are left for the older spirits. There are also toiletries for the spirits to “freshen up” from their journey, as well as basins of water, soap and razors.  There is music, celebration, memories, and a joyous time is had by all.

In many cities in the western United States, La Dia de los Muertos celebrations have become sought-after social events.  There are cultural exhibits,  street fairs and grand parties. These fiestas are artsy, hip and oh-so-chic. Many party-goers attend these affairs with their faces painted like the figures that adorn the altars, and dressed in traditional Mexican attire.  These public venues still contain all of the trappings of the more intimate Mexican home celebrations, but on a much grander scale.

On La Dia de los Muertos, celebrate!  Parents may be able to find local museums or cultural institutions that have exhibits designed to educate children about the Day of the Dead. And, it’s a wonderful opportunity to remember your own ancestors. La Dia de los Muertos is not a time to grieve; it is a time to celebrate life.

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia