It finally hit 80 degrees in Seattle; when the temperature rises, I miss the thunderstorms back in Ohio. The feeling of a muggy night broken by a thunderstorm is still very visceral for me even though I haven’t been home in the summer for more than a few days in almost ten years. My great-grandmother used to sit on her porch and watch the lightning, and my dad and I used to do the same thing at our home.
It’s those memories, the memories of catching lightning bugs, the feel of electricity in the air, the way the setting sun filtered through the lilac bush in the backyard, that sustain my feelings for the place I grew up. The culture of the area often does not.
Living in the Pacific Northwest among other Midwesterners, I find there’s a tendency among us to explain away our hometown’s conservative attitudes about everything from keeping racist sports mascots and team names to preventing trans folks from correcting their gender on birth certificates to “well, that’s the Midwest for you.” Often, I find it’s because my part of the Midwest–at least amongst those who are not marginalized in some way–values helping their own families and maintaining appearances but rejects anything beyond certain types of limited performative allyship (“my gay friend; I’m not racist but–“). And yet I see Midwestern resistance and counterculture to those “values,” which are nothing but bigotry and willful ignorance cloaked in moral righteousness about “tradition.”
In my newly published piece in Comestible Issue 7, “Bisexual Chili and Cookie-Plunger Witchcraft: Reclaiming My Queer Midwestern Identity through Food,” I wrote about my experiences as as queer Midwestern transplant who is still trying develop a more positive (though critical) relationship with Midwestern food, which I had associated with toxic relationships, corn-fed trans/queerphobia, and body shaming.* In this issue, you can also read my partner’s companion piece about hippie food and gender essentialism in rural California as well as pieces on composting, gardening in another country, Native American cuisine, and brewsters.
Comestible is available online and in a variety of independent bookstores.
In the piece, I mention throwing semi-annual Cincinnati chili parties, and I finally got it together for my 2018 party. Below is my recipe for slow-cooker Cincinnati chili as well as links to a vegan/vegetarian version and buckeye candies, which are chocolate-dipped peanut-butter balls made to look like the nuts from our state tree, the buckeye.
I made these buckeyes from The Joy of Baking, except I skipped the shortening, used bittersweet chocolate for baking (Ghirardelli was on sale), and needed another ounce of chocolate. Based on recommendations, I used creamy Skippy (also on sale), but in the future I plan to try this with no-stir unsweetened creamy peanut butter.
For my vegetarian pals, I made Vegan/Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili from Oh My Veggies! You can use ½ Tablespoon of chili powder instead if you want it to be less spicy. (Robin and I had a laugh about the Old Rasputin in the picture since that’s from their hometown. Makes a great pairing, too, just like us? I’ll see myself out.)
As for the meat version of Cincinnati chili, there are two things to know about this recipe. First, you always boil and never brown the beef in Cincinnati chili, and second, using the crockpot takes longer but it leaves you freer to work on other things, like making buckeyes.
In the past, I’ve cooked the meat first to make sure the consistency is right and then added the rest of the ingredients, but you could also put everything in and cook on low for 6-8 hours. That would be much easier.
Crock-Pot Cincinnati Chili
Adapted from “Cincinnati Chili Cockaigne,”The Joy of Cooking, 2006 ed., p. 514.
Time: ~11-16 hours
Active: 30 minutes
Crockpot: 2-8 hours
Resting: ~8 hours
4 cups water
2 pounds ground beef chuck
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed
15 oz (425 g) tomato purée
2 Tablespoons (30 mL) apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon (15 mL) Worcestershire sauce
2.5 tsp black pepper
1.5 tsp allspice
1 tsp cloves
1 large bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons chili pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ ounce (14 g) unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate, grated
1.5 pounds sharp or medium cheese, very finely grated
2 pounds of dried spaghetti, cooked according to directions
Optional: for four or five ways: raw chopped yellow onion and cooked kidney beans
Condiments: Oyster crackers and (red) Tabasco sauce
Slow cooker or Crockpot (mine is 4 quarts)
Cheese grater with fine grating
Large pot for spaghetti
Break up the ground beef into the crockpot and add 4 cups of water. Add all the other ingredients, and stir.
Cook for 2-3 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low, until the beef is cooked through. Let cool and then refrigerate overnight. Break up any large chunks of beef. Remove the bay leaf, skim the fat off the top, and reheat to serve (in crockpot, on stove, or in the microwave).
To serve, place a portion of spaghetti in a bowl-plate or bowl. Top with chili and cover with cheese. No, more cheese. Even more cheese. Here’s a photo for reference. And then onions and/or kidney beans for a four- or five-way. Add oyster crackers and Tabasco sauce to taste.
*The article is also the first time I’ve publicly written about having an eating disorder and how being in an abusive relationship with someone whose friends and family were also toxic triggered that. I cried a lot writing this because, since returning to therapy for PTSD, I’ve had to sort through how a whole group of “friends” and “family” (not my family of origin, to be clear) used me as a punching bag for their transphobia, biphobia, and poor body image. The rawness is still there, and I often feel like I don’t belong anywhere I go. But the friends I’ve made here in Seattle who like me for who and what I actually am, and my own family, who has been supportive of my coming out eases things, and maybe someday these feelings will pass.