The intensely masculine act of cooking beef chili

I broke up the beef with the back of a wooden spoon until it was no longer pink and spread it with the fat and spices and aromatics into a weave and stood there in my apron, regarded myself, got aroused even, thinking chili is a man’s dish with its crude, simple components: no woman could make chili like this, not even on International Women’s Day, or A Day Without Women, or any day: we men, we own this.

And I was pleased Lily wanted me to make it for her birthday, of all the things she could pick, which wasn’t many.

When she came into the pizza restaurant and we met Saturday night I told Dawn, she looks like she just walked out of a Prince video with her black, floppy hat and her matching blazer, the ripped jeans and accessorized hoops and pendant, the teal highlights in her hair, the exposed midriff. I said she looks like she just walked out of a Prince video, but Lily didn’t seem to get it. And then, after we’d eaten and I went to the men’s room and opened the door the song “1999” came on and I stood there, regarding some announcement about a Brahms concert but with a good-looking girl promoting it which didn’t make sense, but got my attention. And then the kids wanted to play video games there, they had the old, arcade-style ones that took quarters. So I stood watching both Lily and Charlotte at the sit-down driving game, where you can pick from various course themes (like Hong Kong, or Las Vegas), and Charlotte chose Vegas, and couldn’t keep on the track: she kept going up these off-ramps and hitting palm trees and so on, but it looked just like Las Vegas. And I thought, that’s the thing about Vegas: it looks like you’re in a 1980s video game, in a fake car.

It was a hard day. Charlotte had been in an after-school problem-solving team-building activity since December culminating in a series of competitions with hundreds of kids that started at 8:40 AM on a Saturday, and then the awards ceremony was an hour later than planned, like 4:30 PM, and she and the other 3rd graders in her group stood there expectantly, waiting to be recognized but didn’t place, and didn’t understand that means you basically sit down (they just kept standing there smiling until someone came over and said, sit down): and it was the opposite of the over-awarding culture I think, where kids get badges and trophies for like everything and in this case, they got jack shit.

So when Charlotte came home pouting with her arms crossed and went up to her room, I gave her some time. When I came in she was on her Kindle playing a game where she’s a digital snake eating these glowing balls. We talked about where to go for dinner (to celebrate) and settled on pizza, but I was fed up with the high-end suburban pizza so we picked a smaller shop in a strip mall run by some Mexicans, with Christmas lights and a salad bar that didn’t look hygienic but man, it was good: they had the old-school metal risers on every table where they put the pie and light a candle underneath to keep it warm, and when we left, Lily said she wanted to come back for her birthday the following weekend. And Dawn’s mom Beth held me in the parking lot when we said goodbye, and said what a lovely family you have. And Lily rode home with me, explaining how she feels about Christianity. And me, I said I’m basically selfish and Sunday mornings are sacred to me, and I don’t connect with Christ like that. And while they were at church the next morning I walked the dog to the lake and came home thinking about that, wondering if I should feel bad, but didn’t.


Categories: Humor, musings, parenting

Tags: , , , , , , ,

44 replies

  1. i love the first paragraph….made curry last night, no where near as manly! best,


    gregg s johnson cell: 206.399.3066 email:


    Liked by 1 person

  2. That bit about the manliness of chili is something I’d never thought of, but probably true. Although my wife makes a decent chili, and I don’t cook.

    At the race we ran last week, there were at least a dozen or more people at the finish linen handing out medals to all the finishers. Just about everyone who finished accepted one, my older daughter Keilan, included. I said no thanks, and the medal hander-outers looked at me like I was weird, and I wondered if I was. Keilan said, “Daddy, why don’t you want a medal?” I said, “Well, I think medals should go to the winners, but that’s my opinion, and other people think differently.” We sat down to wait for my wife and Emily to finish, and I wondered if I should have accepted a medal, if I’d been rude or something, because just about everyone had one. Then here comes my wife and Emily, and Emily has her medal, and my wife doesn’t. I thought, well either were both right, or were both rude. And while I can come off as a jackass, my wife is never rude, so there you go.

    Liked by 3 people

    • There you go. Love it. Alright, I’ll let the lasses have a go at the chili. I like the name Keilan and Emily. That’s what I’m talking about. Time for cake now, here. Cake and bourbon, cold chili.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my god. I haven’t finished reading this, but after getting to your reference to Prince … you need to go read what I wrote tonight. The coincidence is stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And now that I’ve read the whole thing … you’re right, chili is a man’s dish. Women should just not bother trying. They’ll do something crazy like put corn in it.

      As for the rest, this is just packed with good stuff. I don’t even know where to begin.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah and others should go read yours too. That was awesome.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is actually the thing I enjoy the most about your writing … there’s a lot to it that actually is astray, but it is that randomness that all ultimately feels connected at the end, that is so appealing to me. Probably because i could never imagine how to write like that. There are pieces in here … your daughter talking about Christianity and whether your should feel bad about your views. The game on the Kindle. Vegas is like a 1980s video game. I marvel at how you come up with this stuff and draw the connections you do.

        And chili.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey thank you Mark for seeing that and calling it out; I’ve been playing with that form and this medium and glad to hear you respond to that. It’s not as hard as you think so don’t discount your ability to


      • ….I was saying don’t discount your ability to do something like that, as you say….for me it’s maybe a level of trust and experimentation is all…sorry I mis-sent that last comment. Bill


  4. I never could cook. Not even chili. It’s a shame. The quickest way to a woman’s bed is via a scrumptious meal. I’d have had fewer lonely nights if I’d known how to cook. Too late. And as Bukowski said, there nothing worse than too late.

    You can’t go wrong with a restaurant that hangs Christmas lights. East 6th Street in Manhattan has a block of Indian restaurants that all hang Christmas lights. Holiday in July. Liked this so much that I’m going to scroll up for a second helping. Yes, I am.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like how Buke talks about dying before you’re dead. And I am down with the lights, too, year-round. Thanks for dipping in here to this. Bill


  5. Slither. It’s addictive and devours psychic pain or something like that. That sucks about the third graders standing like that. I have a third grader and know she’d be crushed. Really those kids should be proud they made it to the competition in the first place. Hopefully they enjoyed themselves and took away something bigger from the experience.


  6. Funny how some cooking seems to be for men, like barbequeing. My husband always does the barbequeing on the few days a year when the weather’s warm enough here to do it. And he makes wonderful curries from scratch. Both kind of macho foodstuffs. Mind you, he’s also pretty good at baking too – his lemon drizzle and banana cakes are amazing.
    Love this meander through Prince and praise by way of prizes – grand stuff


    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman barbecue now, come to think of it. Funny: on the ‘few days a year when the weather’s warm enough.’ God, how do we manage? I don’t bake, not a bit. I don’t trust shutting the oven door and just stepping back like that, I need to MEDDLE. Too much math in baking, not enough room for imprecision. It’s either right or wrong, period.

      Liked by 1 person

      • True, true. Baking is chemistry, pure and simple – no playing things by instinct or veering off piste. And yes, no meddling – or you get pancakes instead of sponges 🙂


  7. Don’t tell anyone, but I make a pretty good vegetarian chili. It negates all value-added manliness but I think I come out about even.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Chili. Yes. I just made some myself that has tequila, beer, and a little chocolate in it. Great winter food.

    Speaking of awards, I’m still waiting for my WordPress badge of approval, but I have a feeling I’m destined to get jack shit from them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I generally make chili with ground turkey rather than beef. Does that make me a wuss? We still seem to gobble it up…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. so is puff pastry, all afluff with butter, women’s work? ) love the chili talk and you can never go wrong when channeling prince –

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Beef chilli has been my favorite since a very long time. It’s lovely that you can cook with so much passion.


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