My son, who is in 11th grade, just completed a three-day homework assignment for his English class, in which he was to eat only local foods and to write a reflection each day about his experience. Well! What can I say, other than why didn’t I have homework assignments like this in high school??
Tempted as I was to immerse myself in this project, I respected those easily blurred boundaries and kept my involvement to a minimum:
1) I drove him to the farmer’s market
2) I paid for the food
3) I helped him plan his meals
4) I asked him — often — if he was writing his reflections (Okay, boundaries are hard for me)
Our refrigerator and pantry, filled with Autumn’s bounty in Maryland (greens, apples, beans, squash, herbs, fruit butters and jams) displayed a cheery, colorful warmth that I realized has been absent these last few months, since my older two children left for college.
Indeed, it’s been quiet since the girls, one a college senior and the other a freshman, packed their belongings and headed north, leaving behind darkened bedrooms, clean (!) bathrooms, empty laundry baskets and a neglected kitchen. Turns out the “eat local” assignment was just the inspiration I needed to return to the stove.
And I returned with a vengeance. I found the largest soup pot I could, and filled it with farm fresh veggies — sweet and spicy peppers, rainbow chard, garlic and onion — added a pound of ground turkey, lots of tomatoes — diced and whole — a dash of red wine, some stock, and a healthy sprinkling of herbs, both dried and fresh. Before long, the kitchen was transformed, windows steaming, temperature rising, pots filling the sink, and oh, the smells!
It wasn’t long before my husband, son and I sat down to bowls loaded with my newly dubbed “Kitchen Sink Chili” accompanied with hunks of freshly baked bread. We stayed at the table much longer than usual that night, confessing our nostalgia for the days when five sat around the same table and shaking our heads in disbelief that, too soon, we’d be down to just two.
Hours later, when the table was cleared and the ample leftovers stored in the refrigerator, I realized my stomach and heart felt full for the first time in a long while.
Recipe for Kitchen Sink Chili:
Kitchen Sink Chili allows for much flexibility. Use whatever is freshest and inspires you. If you’d prefer a vegetarian version, forgo the turkey and consider adding rice or a small pasta such as orzo. Just leave out the kitchen sink!
3 T olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
I lb. ground turkey
1 large pepper (red, yellow or orange), diced
Variety of spicy peppers, small dice (I used habanero). Modify according to your “heat” preference
1 large onion, diced
2 28-oz. canned tomatoes, one whole and one diced
1 T tomato paste
2 c. low sodium chicken stock
1/2 c. Red wine
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed. (Feel free to experiment with a variety of beans)
1/2 bunch of rainbow chard or other similar greens, rinsed and chopped with tough ends removed
2-3 T. chili powder
1-1/2 T. cumin
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
In a medium sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over low to medium heat. Add a clove of minced garlic followed by the turkey. Just before the turkey is completely browned toss in the minced hot peppers. Continue to brown and then set aside. In a large soup or stock pot, heat the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion followed by the remaining garlic and sauté until onion is soft and translucent. Add remaining ingredients, including the cooked turkey and finish with the spices. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes to allow stock to thicken and flavors to come together. Stir occasionally and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve immediately in bowls with hunks of crusty bread.