I cast a wish into the air

Being admired by lots of open-source geeks can be useful in unexpected ways. Probably the most extreme example I can recall is the Linux user group that once asked me to speak at a conference in Kansas City and rewarded me by paying for the ammunition at a local gun range where I got to fire fully-automatic weapons for the first and so far only time in my life. Though, come to think of it, the Korean LUG that gave me a tour of the DMZ complete with a trip down a captured North Korean infiltration tunnel was up there, too.

I was thinking about some of the more unusual experiences I’ve had of the road earlier today and it occurred to me that there’s one that almost happened, at Linucon 1, but didn’t because some insurance or municipal-health bureaucrat forced the conference to cancel the event. I’ve regretted it ever since.

So here it is. I don’t do a lot of road trips any more, but if your LUG or university is thinking about how to get me to give a talk, I have an unfulfilled wish…

Someday, I want to help judge a chili cook-off.

Hey, I like chili. I have some foodie tendencies and a good nose; I’d probably do the judging thing as competently as anybody who isn’t a professional cook. There it is; maybe some geek in a chiliaceous part of the U.S. will see this and go “Yeah. We could do that…” And a good time would be had by all.

A barbecue cook-off would also be quite acceptable :-)

73 thoughts on “I cast a wish into the air

  1. Well, if for any reason you end up in these parts (say within a couple hundred miles… easy drive or short flight territory), I’ll spring for you to come shooting up in North Idaho any time.

    We live on Lake Pend Oreille; one of the most beautiful places on the planet, with a great attitude towards guns (north Idaho has some of the highest per capita gun ownership in the country).

    We’ve got spectacular hunting too, but I gather that doesn’t interest you much.

  2. I’m not sure you’d do well at a chili cookoff, Eric…they tended to value using exotic ingredients and weird flavors. Me, I prefer a good eating chili.

  3. There is no BBQ outside Texas.
    Certainly not in Idaho.

    (I lived in Hayden for a while.)

  4. Texas? BBQ? Phooey. It might be good food, but it’s not Real BBQ.

    Don’t you know that Real BBQ comes off the shoulder of a pig, is slow roasted for hours, and is served in between bread and cole slaw, perhaps with a light tomato based sauce on the side?

    That’s REAL BBQ. Memphis BBQ.

  5. I could scare you up a Tofu cook off. Would that interest you?

  6. Tomato? A tomato based faux BBQ might make an acceptable meal, but anyone who has been to Eastern NC knows that real BBQ has an apple cider based sauce.

  7. @J.Jay when I say “we”, I meant “Me, my wife, and our smoker”; not Idahoans in general, or Idaho BBQ joints.

    I have discovered that no-one makes good BBQ, or good tacos up here. I can at least get acceptable pizza.

  8. Well damn! If that’s all it takes, I’ll see you soon :^).

    Oh, and Jay Maynard, I’ve been to dozens of chili cookoffs (my dad used to sponsor a team) and there’s usually not a lot of weirdness going on. I suspect that’s an Austin thing (kinda like spam-o-rama and Eeyore’s Birthday :^).

    Of course, San Antonio is the home of the Chili Queens, so this IS where you’ll find the best chili con carne in the world, and we take it kinda seriously.

    Puggg: What the… I’ve had some good pig in my time (put some on the grill week before last as a matter of fact), but everybody knows Bar-B-Q is Beef. Everything else is just SMOKED meat :^). And ANY Bar-B-Q that you HAVE to put sauce on (not that you said that) doesn’t deserve the name. That’s almost as irritating as people who put sauce on a perfectly good steak. Might as well eat it with ketchup!

    Ok, I think I’ve offended enough people for this evening, I’ll shut up now :^).

  9. Chris Bryne> I have discovered that no-one makes good BBQ, or good tacos up here.

    My condolences. Can you send you something?

  10. I was born in NC. Sorry to say that pink vinegar meat from my place of birth…is….well….sub par…

    Memphis/TX/KC BBQ is much better….and if you make it far enough south barbacoa rocks….

  11. >I could scare you up a Tofu cook off. Would that interest you?

    You are pleased to jest. Ha. Ha.

  12. @dgreer Nah, we’re very happy to make our own.

    Our fresh home made tortillas and fillings are pretty damn good. I’d be perfectly happy with home made if I could find a decent tortilla press that made tortillas bigger than 8″ and didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

    Our chili is great. Our BBQ is pretty good… We don’t have the brisket 100% where we want it yet, but our ribs, our pork and our alternates are great (smoked bacon wrapped shrimp… mmmmm good, and violating several kosher rules at once).

  13. > I have discovered that no-one makes good BBQ, or good tacos up here. I can at least get acceptable pizza.

    But Moontime is a really decent bar.

    Austin, TX for the win. Y’all. Don’t live there anymore, and I feel your pain, Chris. We make our own in a smoker now, too.

    Memphis BBQ… WTF, over?

  14. Eric, you are the one who said in public you liked tofu…

    I’ve eaten barbecue in an outdoor joint in Henderson, NC. Not bad, but the sauce…meh. Didn’t do much for me at all. No flavor to it. A good barbecue sauce should have some substance to it so it stays with the meat, and should have some real power, but not enough to overpower the smoke. Oh, and as for wood? Mesquite evolved specifically to be used to cook barbecue. It’s not good for anything else.

    And I’m somewhat agnostic about meat; I do prefer sliced beef brisket to everything else, but it’s entirely acceptable to barbecue pork, or chicken, or turkey, as well.

    I don’t get the obsession with cole slaw on a barbecue sandwich, though. Had it. Wasn’t bad, but rather hard to get my mouth around.

  15. >Eric, you are the one who said in public you liked tofu…

    Yes. I like tofu where it belongs, in a blue-and-white bowl with chopsticks beside it and some Szechuan fire oil within easy reach. Not at a cookout, fool!

    >And I’m somewhat agnostic about meat;

    So am I. For me the barbecue experience centers on slow-cooked pork ribs, but I accept beef brisket as a worthy element of the canon.

  16. Having lived in Amarillo and Austin, I’ve heard more people chitter about their preferred BBQ methods than I care to recollect.

    1) If the meat is cooked, but not dry, it’s a success.
    2) If the sauce is tart, but not overwhelming, it’s a success.

    The vast majority of BBQ I’ve eaten is a success on both counts. The vast majority of BBQ aficionados who prepare it enjoy the process more than they enjoy the outcome, and attempting to discuss the actual chemistry of what’s going on with them will be deemed heresy.

    I discovered that I could make an ‘indoor BBQ’ by steaming a cut of meat in a rice cooker or crock pot until it was cooked about halfway through, injecting the drippings into the still raw center, rolling it in olive oil (or some other oil, I happen to like olive) and putting it on an oven set to ‘clean’ for 5-6 minutes, then reducing the temperature down to about 225 for the final cook.

    The initial steaming means that there’s enough moisture in the protein that you don’t get the ‘beef brisket shoe leather’ problem. By setting the temperature high enough that the oil on the outside ‘scorches’, you get the smoke flavor. You also seal in the moisture for the rest of the cooking.

    And by using this strange concept called ‘technology’, you get replicable results.

    Cooking. It’s like chemistry for hungry people.

  17. >Cooking. It’s like chemistry for hungry people.

    Bah. You have no poetry in your soul, Ken. This is barbecue we’re talking about – part of the point is to approximate the experience of charring mammoth haunch over a Pleistocene campfire. And don’t you go broadcasting workarounds like that, or the women will learn to emulate the sacred manly rite and all our testicles will shrivel to the size of raisins. *Grunt*.

  18. Ken, you’re missing an essential element of the barbecue: the smoke! And no, charring the drippings on the bottom of your oven on the clean cycle doesn’t count. Neither does the oil fakery; nothing tastes like mesquite smoke but the smoke emitted from that otherwise useless tree. The same goes for other kinds of wood smoke. You can add smoke flavoring to the meat, but that’s cheating, and never quite winds up right.

    Eric’s right. You have no poetry in your soul. Man cook meat with fire.

  19. Ahhh, barbecue, one of my other geek hobbies besides technology. I’m a big fan of Steven Raichlen, of BBQ U fame, and I have several of his books for influence.

    For pork ribs – marinate overnight in a apple cider vinegar based marinade, sprinkle a little bit of rub, then smoke for several hours with a mix of hickory and apple wood. I also whip up a nice, sweet, smoky sauce based on apple cider. Pork and apple just go well together!

    Pork shoulder is pretty good NC style. The tart, vinegar based sauces go well with the richness of the pork.

    I’m still working on a brisket, the two that I’ve made came out well, the the flavor wasn’t quite to my liking. I tried mesquite for the first one and oak for the second. The oak was much better.

    Grilling steaks – Salt, pepper, garlic powder, and parsley. Cook it medium to medium-well, preferable over mesquite chunks. Comes out fork tender every time! (T-bone or rib eye only, please.)

    For the past several Thanksgivings, I’ve been smoking a turkey. I have a butter sage injection sauce, with a peppery sage rub and I smoke it with mesquite. I get rave reviews from the extended family.

    My wife’s favorite is beer-butt chicken. A whole bird, rubbed down with your typical barbecue spices, stood up on a can of beer and smoked with hickory. You will NEVER have a more juicy chicken in your life!

    Just my $0.25 worth of opinion.

  20. Fire made from burning wood that is. Even Hank Hill himself would admit that while propane makes for a good grill, the wood (THE WOOD) is part of the ritual.

    But let’s not lie to ourselves, either. A BBQ is not a primitive roast. It is as much a testament to man’s love for unnatural seasoning as it is to the Fourth State of Matter. All of the major food groups – Texas, Memphis, NC, KC, and Caribbean – demonstrate man’s attempt to improve upon the Quaternary recipe.

    So Ken is just attempting to improve further, and that is to be lauded. It’s just that the original improvement has itself become a fixed point in time. That technology has matured. The BBQ of 1840 and the BBQ of 2010 differ only in minor details. Improve more, too much, and it is simply something else. Something good, perhaps, but still something else.

  21. All this talk has me hungry. I’m going to visit the barbecue stand here and get some rib tips. Guy’s from Kentucky, and does good work, even if his sauce is a bit on the thin side. Considering how rare good barbecue is in Minnesota, I’ll take it.

  22. Ken, I’m interestied in trying out your barbecue– esr and Jay, where’s the spirit of science? Surely, the experiment should be tested.

    Shouldn’t you have as much courage as these folks, who found out that ordinary supermarket-brand eggs, organic supermarket eggs, high-end organic Country Hen brand eggs and home-grown organic eggs all tasted the same?

    I suspect that low end supermarket eggs might be inferior, but I can believe it about the rest.

    Erbo, thanks for the link, even though I was expecting that Frank was going to start liking the stuff.

  23. Science?? Bite your tongue, madam! The one place where men can finally relax from the grind of hypothesis and experimentation, and just be alchemists and astrologers for once, and here you had to go and say something like that. Bite. Your. Tongue.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to fix a brisket on our old welding bench in the shed, rubbed with the secret ingredient (poke salad), the way my daddy’s daddy and his daddy’s daddy did it, and it’ll be good, cuz we said so.

  24. Memphis BBQ… WTF, over?

    Yea, verily, didst The Prophet Himself (PBUH), learned in the Tao of Memphis, bring his skills to the Holy City of Kansas. There didst he instruct His Disciples, who carried on after him, ever refining their recipes. Many are the sauces, rubs, woods, and meats of the Tao of Kansas City, each with its own flavor, yet there is KCBS-nature in them all.

    The Bride of Monster is privileged to work around the corner from the holiest shrine in all of Barbecue, the flagship Arthur Bryant’s, and to drive within a block of a Jack Stack location on the way home each day. And we live close enough to Oklahoma Joe’s (which Anthony Bourdain considers “the best BBQ in Kansas City, which makes it the best BBQ in the world.”) that Monsterette 1 could walk to her first job there. When the lines are too long there (which is often), we can go down the hill to Rosedale, which has the good sense to offer Royal Crown Cola rather than either of the major brands. If you don’t understand why RC goes best with BBQ, then you obviously have never had RC with good BBQ.

    Life is good.

  25. >found out that ordinary supermarket-brand eggs, organic supermarket eggs, high-end organic Country Hen brand eggs and home-grown organic eggs all tasted the same.

    either these people had no taste buds, or somebody slipped them some commercial eggs called home grown.

    I can believe the fru fru organic eggs tasted the same because that is often just a marketing gimmick.

    Home grown eggs however are not even remotely the same. Unless they are just kept in a cage and fed with commercial hen feed. If the chickens are out foraging, the yolks are darker, richer and the eggs do not even remotely taste like the commercial eggs.

    I also once thought people who grew potatoes were crazy because…c’mon how much is a bag of potatoes. It’s not worth the trouble. That was until my neighbors grew some potatoes and I tried them….now I’m growing them too.

    The most drastic difference I have noticed between commercial and home grown would have to be eggs and tomatoes.

  26. TMR is correct, I know because I have raised my own chikens for eggs for years. The best tasting eggs are from chickens who get at least half their diet free-ranging. Them bugs make the eggs taste fantastic :^).

  27. Eric, you know I can cook. We’ve never BBQ’d together, but I do know how to do a traditional BBQ and smoker arrangement.

    What I discovered is that I could make better than average BBQ without having to drag out the wood chips, cook over the fire, clean up the grill afterwards, etc. This may have more appeal because I live in an area where there’s no room to BBQ, and because a large chunk of my social circle is vegetarian.

    As to eggs:

    I used to believe there was no difference between the low end store bought eggs, the ‘cage free’ eggs and the ‘organic eggs’. Until my girlfriend cooked two eggs, no spices, sunny side up, from each variety for a sit down taste test.

    Low end store bought: $1.89/doz
    Cage free store bought: $2.69/doz
    Farmer’s market organic: $3.99/doz

    Short answer: I buy the organic eggs from the farmer’s market for special occasion cooking, mostly because of the walk. If I could pick them up at the same time I did my regular shopping, I’d pay the premium every time. The taste difference was that noticeable. (Grace bakes, and says that it makes a huge difference in doughs as well.)

    Longer answer:

    Store brand eggs – They’re sort of what I’d grown to expect from eggs. Bland, no real texture, thin, watery yolks, a white that’s kind of flavorless and rubbery.

    Store brand ‘cage free’ – the yolks are larger, the whites have a subtler taste that you can actually taste, and the yolks are much richer in their flavor.

    Farmer’s market organic – The yolks are unbelievably rich, the whites are almost buttery in their flavor. They were also somewhat larger and denser. I generally figure they’re about 10-15% denser than an egg of comparable size from a store brand. I can usually use 2/3 the eggs that a recipe calls for with these.

  28. We buy local farmers market eggs because the yolks are huge and rich.

    Dont give a damn if they’re “organic” or anything else. They’re good, and they only cost about $1 more a dozen.

    The only problem with them, is that published recipes don’t work because the yolk to white ratio is different.

  29. ESR, do you prefer chili with beans, or sans?

    A true chili aficionado considers beans in chili to be an abomination. And will tell you so loudly. I know this because I prefer beans in chili and I live in Austin, TX. I do luuuuv my wife’s chili.

  30. >ESR, do you prefer chili with beans, or sans?

    I’m willing to enjoy it either way. I’ve had good chili and not-so-good in both styles; it’s down to the individual recipe and execution thereof.

  31. I too have noticed that you have to change the ratios for baking. The yolks are so dense and rich it affects the dough.

    Chickens are magical beasts that transform ticks and grasshoppers into omelets.

    They upgrade and concentrate protein, along with all the nutrients in the vegetable matter they eat.

    I guess if you like to eat bugs and spend all your time collecting them you don’t have a need for chickens.

    The headline for that story should have been:

    Egg Industry Study Proves Commercial Eggs Just as Good

    In one sentence they state that what the chickens eat affects the flavor, and then in the next breath they claim it makes no difference.

    And just to keep this about BBQ the occasional rooster gets that treatment too.

    Beer butt is great, We do that a lot. Try soaking the whole cleaned chicken in a brine overnight. I like a cumin, lime zest tequila brine. Then do the rub down and beer butt smoker treatment. You can also put lime or lemon slices and butter under the skin next to the breast meat.

    Forget science…cooking is about magic. Too much science in the kitchen and you get things like TANG.

  32. >A true chili aficionado considers beans in chili to be an abomination.

    Purists of all stripes should more accurately be called conformists. They will never innovate since their mindset is exclusionary.

    Innovation comes from trying new methods and ingredients.

    If it tastes good I like it.

  33. I haven’t tried brining yet. I have a recipe for a cinnamon orange brine, but I haven’t been brave enough to try it yet. Unfortunately, my BBQ rig is in storage now. I just recently started a new sysadmin job after being out of work for the past year and a half. Once we get settled into our new place there are several new recipes I’d like to try, including peanut butter steak. It sounds weird enough to try, at least once.

  34. A true chili aficionado considers beans in chili to be an abomination. And will tell you so loudly.

    s/aficionado/snob/ … and, in this case, “snob” should be read in the same way as any other snob.

    Chili was invented on the trail as a way for a chuckwagon cook to use up whatever he had on hand. Anything and everything went in the pot. Beans weren’t sneered at at all.

    Me? I’ll eat it either way, but my own eating chili recipe has them in moderation.

  35. TMR Says:
    >Purists of all stripes should more accurately be called conformists.
    >If it tastes good I like it.

    Jay Maynard Says:
    >s/aficionado/snob/ … and, in this case, “snob” should be read in the same way as any other snob.

    While I agree completely, I do find it interesting that after most of a lifetime in Texas, I’ve only encountered anti-bean snobs, never pro-bean snobs.

    I know people who will defend beans enthusiastically (I’m one of them) but normally only in response to an anti-bean activist.

  36. ESR: If you don’t mind my asking, how come you don’t do so many road-trips any longer? Were people messing you about too much, contrary to the requirements in http://www.catb.org/~esr/travelrules.html ? Or did you find it boring to have to repeat the same spiel too many times?

    Just curious, because I saw you once in London and you *seemed* to be enjoying it, and enjoying meeting the Brit Geeks. I naively assumed such a gigging existence might have its continuing charms, but then you stopped doing them.

  37. >I naively assumed such a gigging existence might have its continuing charms, but then you stopped doing them.

    It got old after a while. Then it got really old. You have to realize that I spent a significant portion of five years on the road. The cumulative toll on my psyche, after a while, reached a level very few people other than touring musicians can easily imagine.

  38. Interestingly, NPR has a story about how eating meat and cooking is what made it possible for us to have such powerful brains. I was amused that the Harvard anthropologist who extolled the value of cooking is a vegetarian. There is no mention of the dietary proclivities of the other scientist, who talked about the value of eating meat.

  39. While I agree completely, I do find it interesting that after most of a lifetime in Texas, I’ve only encountered anti-bean snobs, never pro-bean snobs.

    I think you won’t find any pro-bean snobs. What you’ll find is folks like me who are agnostic about it.

  40. @NM

    I had a job that I quite enjoyed, that had me on the road 200 days a year for several years. It was great fun,. and I made a ton of money doing it… and it damn near killed me. Literally…

    I spent so much time travelling that my diet got way out of whack, and breathing all that recirculated air combined with the crappy diet, and exposure to all the germs of the world made me sick all the time. I ended up with a really nasty case of pneumonia that had me weak and sick for six weeks.

    Then there’s the stress of constantly being on the move. Always living to a short clock. Never having any real down time.

    Then there’s the feeling of never being at “HOME”…

    You can’t really explain that one. Even if you love traveling, even if you love adventure, even if you hate being tied down… The feeling of never being home just wears you down.

    It has it’s attractions, and I wouldn’t have missed a lot of the experiences… but I wouldn’t do it again.

  41. I have a solution for the bean/no bean thing.

    If it has beans, its not chili it’s chili bean stew.

    Both are good, but they are different, and making that difference clear avoids confusion, and irritating asses saying “hey this isn’t chili” when you serve them something with beans.

  42. If it has beans, its not chili

    I believe I can demonstrate the absurdity of that statement.

    We take meat and peppers, whatever other ingredients you believe make up chili [con carne]. We now all agree that the pot before us contains “chili”. I get half a bowl of the stuff, which you still agree is “chili”, but the moment I add beans, it somehow stops being “chili”.

    What if I put a pile of beans on one side of the bowl; is the rest of the bowl still “chili” but only the part of it that’s actually touching the beans quit being “chili”? Am I allowed to have crackers in my chili and still call it “chili”? Are tomatoes allowed? Cheese? What about peppers other than the chili pepper itself? If I pour chili atop a wiener to make a chili dog, is the chili itself not chili anymore?

    Unless the combination of ingredients that made it “chili” are somehow transformed by the addition of beans to fundamentally alter them, how can the beans negate the chili-ness already in the bowl? Do beans contain some kind of antichili that annihilates the Chili quantuum number?

  43. Talking about chili:

    The real controversy is not whether or not you use beans. Around these parts beans are considered a standard ingredient. Light red kidney are the usual, or black beans can make a nice substitute.

    No the real controversy is do you put pasta in there? I say yes, it just makes it thicker and more filling. But you put in a little extra water cause the spaghetti sucks up juice.

    ’round these parts we don’t care for folks that don’t put pasta in their chili.

    THEY TOOK OUR JERBS!!!

  44. Pasta?…well, okkay, I guess.

    I do think that people should be warned before going to places like Skyline Chili in Cincinnati that they’re not going to get chili as they know it. It’s not bad, but it’s not what I’d call chili. Too sweet, fo one thing, never mind the fact that it’s basically served as spaghetti sauce.

  45. Cooking as chemistry sideline again.

    One of the tricks for spicing chili so that it enhances flavors rather than overwhelms them is to put the bulk of the spices in a beef marinade.

    Braise the meat in whatever sauces you want to infuse the base, don’t just dump chili powder or chilis into a tomato base. I regularly marinade stew beef or fajita beef or salt pork in a mixture of vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, and minced jalapenos for about 24-36 hours, then freeze it (lets the ice crystals break up the meat as a tenderizer), then steam it over beer to cook it.

    This gets put into a tomato base that I keep at just shy of boiling, which gets beans (I prefer a mix of black bean and red pintos), cracked peppercorns, fresh cut onions, a head of minced garlic, and dissolved unsweetened chocolate (at about 2 tsp per quart).

    The chocolate impacts the taste subtly. It cuts through the acidity of the tomato base, and makes the other flavors more noticeable, while also putting a rich ‘floor’ underneath the rest. This allows you to get flavorful chili with a mixture of tastes that hit in the right sequence; the spicy kind of sneaks up on you rather than rips your tongue out.

    If you have the time to mush up fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes to make your sauce, the payoff is very much worth it.

    I will usually provide minced peppers of various varieties for people to garnish with and spice to taste. I never understood people who liked chili that tasted like licking the inside of a hot sauce bottle…

  46. > I never understood people who liked chili that tasted like licking the inside of a hot sauce bottle…

    I like drinking Tabasco sauce.

  47. >Cooking as chemistry sideline again.

    Sounds fantastic! I’m going to try it as soon as the weather turns cool.

    >If you have the time to mush up fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes to make your sauce, the payoff is very much worth it.

    Yes homegrown tomatoes make all the difference in the world. We started growing quite a few different varieties. I plant mostly indeterminate varieties so we harvest all through the summer. One thing we started doing to save time is to wash the whole fruit and put them in gallon freezer bags. Freeze them whole, skin and all. When you need some for cooking, just take them out, and run hot water over them. The skin will peel right off. Then throw them in the pot. Works great and is much less work than canning and making sauce ahead of time.

  48. >>While I agree completely, I do find it interesting that after most of a lifetime in Texas, I’ve only encountered anti-bean snobs, never pro-bean snobs.

    >I think you won’t find any pro-bean snobs. What you’ll find is folks like me who are agnostic about it.

    If you can’t fix good beans (by themselves), don’t put them in your chili. And most people who cook the beans with the chili completely overpower the chili with the beans. I fix chili AND a pot of beans. You can have it any way you want it. Personally, I’ve got a softspot for a big bowl of pintos, with becan, onion, garlic, and Rotel.

    Crap! Now I’m hungry!

  49. Ken: Hmmm… Chocolate? Interesting. As for heat, I grew up with my grandmother’s chili which included all kinds of things, most of them perfectly capable of “ripping your tough out” :^). If you’re not sweating when you eat it, it’s not spicy enough ;^).

  50. dgreer: I had a roommate in college who ate waffles with Tobasco Sauce and Maple Syrup in about a 2:1 mix.

    At that point, I gave up trying to figure out culinary tastes. :)

  51. Here’s a good cautionary tale about a Yankee juding a Texas Chilli contest.

    Recently I was honored to be selected as an Outstanding Famous Celebrity in my Community to be a judge at a chili cook-off because no one else wanted to do it. Also the original person called in sick at the last moment and I happened to be standing there at the judge’s table asking directions to the beer wagon when the call came. I was assured by the other two judges that the chili wouldn’t be all that spicy, and besides they told me I could have free beer during the tasting, so I accepted this as being one of those burdens you endure when you’re an internet writer and therefore known and adored by all. Here are the scorecards from the event:

    Chili # 1: Mike’s Maniac Mobster Monster Chili

    JUDGE ONE: A little too heavy on tomato. Amusing kick.
    JUDGE TWO: Nice, smooth tomato flavor Very mild.
    CAMERON: Holy smokes, what is this stuff? You could remove dried paint from your driveway with it. Took me two beers to put the flames out. Hope that’s the worst one. These people are crazy.

    Chili # 2: Arthur’s Afterburner Chili

    JUDGE ONE: Smoky (barbecue?) with a hint of pork. Slight Jalapeno tang.
    JUDGE TWO: Exciting BBQ flavor, needs more peppers to be taken seriously.
    CAMERON: Keep this out of reach of children! I’m not sure what I am supposed to taste besides pain. I had to wave off two people who wanted to give me the Heimlich maneuver. Shoved my way to the front of the beer line. The barmaid looks like a professional wrestler after a bad night. She was so irritated over my gagging sounds that the snake tattoo under her eye started to twitch. She has arms like Popeye and a face like Winston Churchill. I will NOT pick a fight with her.

    Chili # 3: Fred’s Famous Burn Down the Barn Chili

    JUDGE ONE: Excellent firehouse chili! Great kick. Needs more beans.
    JUDGE TWO: A beanless chili, a bit salty, good use of red peppers.
    CAMERON: This has got to be a joke. Call the EPA, I’ve located a uranium spill. My nose feels like I have been sneezing Drano. Everyone knows the routine by now and got out of my way so I could make it to the beer wagon. Barmaid pounded me on the back; now my backbone is in the front part of my chest. She said her friends call her “Sally.” Probably behind her back they call her “Forklift.”

    Chili # 4: Bubba’s Black Magic

    JUDGE ONE: Black bean chili with almost no spice. Disappointing.
    JUDGE TWO: A hint of lime in the black beans. Good side dish for fish or other mild foods, not much of a chili.
    CAMERON: I felt something scraping across my tongue but was unable to taste it. Sally was standing behind me with fresh refills so I wouldn’t have to dash over to see her. When she winked at me her snake sort of coiled and uncoiled–it’s kinda cute.

    Chili # 5: Linda’s Legal Lip Remover

    JUDGE ONE: Meaty, strong chili. Cayenne peppers freshly ground adding considerable kick. Very impressive.
    JUDGE TWO: Chili using shredded beef; could use more tomato. Must admit the cayenne peppers make a strong statement.
    CAMERON: My ears are ringing and I can no longer focus my eyes. I belched and four people in front of me needed paramedics. The contestant seemed hurt when I told her that her chili had given me brain damage. Sally saved my tongue by pouring beer directly on it from a pitcher. Sort of irritates me that one of the other judges asked me to stop screaming.

    Chili # 6: Vera’s Very Vegetarian Variety

    JUDGE ONE: Thin yet bold vegetarian variety chili. Good balance of spice and peppers.
    JUDGE TWO: The best yet. Aggressive use of peppers, onions, and garlic. Superb.
    CAMERON: My intestines are now a straight pipe filled with gaseous flames. No one seems inclined to stand behind me except Sally. I asked if she wants to go dancing later.

    Chili # 7: Susan’s Screaming Sensation Chili

    JUDGE ONE: A mediocre chili with too much reliance on canned peppers.
    JUDGE TWO: Ho Hum, tastes as if the chef threw in canned chili peppers at the last moment. I should note that I am a bit worried about Judge Number 3, he appears to be in a bit of distress.
    CAMERON: You could put a hand grenade in my mouth and pull the pin and I wouldn’t feel it. I’ve lost the sight in one eye and the world sounds like it is made of rushing water. My clothes are covered with chili which slid unnoticed out of my mouth at some point. Good, at autopsy they’ll know what killed me. Go Sally, save yourself before it’s too late. Tell our children I’m sorry I was not there to conceive them. I’ve decided to stop breathing, it’s too painful and I’m not getting any oxygen anyway. If I need air I’ll just let it in through the hole in my stomach. Call the X-Files people and tell them I’ve found a super nova on my tongue.

    Chili # 8: Helen’s Mount Saint Chili

    JUDGE ONE: This final entry is a good, balanced chili, neither mild nor hot. Sorry to see that most of it was lost when Judge Number 3 fell and pulled the chili pot on top of himself.
    JUDGE TWO: A perfect ending, this is a nice blend chili, safe for all, not too bold but spicy enough to declare its existence.
    CAMERON: Momma?

  52. AFTERMATH

    The following was derived from interviews with contestants, vendors and attendees, and from various official reports submitted and filed by the city police, county sheriff’s office, Highway Patrol, volunteer fire department, officials of the ASPCA, and the EMS ambulance crew.

    After Judge Cameron consumed a third large spoonful of Chili #8, he lurched to his feet launching his folding chair back into the lovely Sally, who was catapulted off the rear of the judging stand landing flat on her back in the grass just below the stand. Cameron whispered what bystanders recounted sounded like a desperate plea for assistance: “Help me, for the love of God, help me,” and appeared to reach for either the airborne Sally or the two pitchers of beer clutched in her hands. Two of the dogs from the Frisbee Catching Contest ran over to lap at the beer-drenched Sally and her thoroughly saturated clothing, such as it was. Sally attempted to demurely both recover her composure as well as re-cover some of her more endearing features, as she’d hit the ground fairly hard bursting a few constraints here and there. Several spectators were injured in the gentlemanly rush to provide assistance.

    As these events unfolded, Judge Cameron with a look of pain induced panic appeared to double over and lose his balance. Flailing his arms to regain steady footing, Cameron grabbed the pot of Chili #8 in a vain attempt to stabilize himself. Staggering back toward the edge of the stand, Frank suffered what witnesses later described as a severe internal reaction to the combined chili and beer he had consumed with such gusto.

    With a sonic boom like sound, according to many observers, Cameron sustained an eruption of incendiary intestinal gas, which ignited one of the dogs still licking beer from the prostrate form of Sally. The poor creature was quickly extinguished by Judge Two’s quick utilization of the last pitcher of beer on the judging table. Luckily the dog was only singed, except on the side nearest Cameron, but the local vet said the hair should grow back the same color as it was. Cameron, in the mean time, slumped off the back edge of the stand spattering the pot of Chili #8 on himself, on Sally, and over the growing herd of wannabe rescuers of Sally, who was desperately fending off any number of helping hands. All the other Frisbee Contest dogs bounded over for the sudden chili feast adding further fuel and confusion to what would soon grow into utter pandemonium. Cameron in a semi-comatose state appeared peaceful as he assumed a supine position next to Sally in the grass. Sally glanced at Cameron with a gaze full of heat and passion. Any woman in the crowd would have recognized the danger in that glare, but the gathering of cowboys seemed inflamed as they jostled to save Sally with either mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or go directly to the ever-popular CPR.

    The noxious fumes emanating from Cameron’s volcanic blast caused a stampede beginning with the throng milling around Sally. As the toxic vapors spread, the escalating exodus became frenzied flight quickly evolving into a hysterical herd trampling tents, booths, stands, and sundry chili preparation utensils. Toppled chili cook stoves and electrical wiring torn from junction boxes created a conflagration like the tri-county area has not seen before and, perhaps, ever again. Adding to the confusion, the fleeing horde hampered and impeded the arrival of various emergency and law enforcement personnel, who were therefore too late to prevent the most serious of Cameron’s injuries as Sally thrashed him soundly about the head and shoulders.

    Judge Cameron is recovering in a local hospital and though not in custody, charges may yet be brought. Sally and Judge Two are dating as he did give Sally his jacket, although some think his effort to dry her off with a handful of paper towels was opportunistic at best. Judge One is attempting to become a Food Critic for some yuppie newspaper in the wine country of California.

  53. Ken Burnside Says:
    > At that point, I gave up trying to figure out culinary tastes.

    De gustibus non est disputandum, “There’s no accounting for taste!”

  54. As a side comment, for those who like relish on their hot dog, and like a lot of HOT in their dog :^), there’s a relish out there called “Hotter than Hell of a Relish” that is just fantastic. It’s the best tasting relish I’ve ever had, at least it was for that split second before the heat completely cauterized my taste buds :^).

    Make sure you drink milk and/or have tums handy when you eat one of these dogs.

    On the other side of that, you can make the relish last longer if just put it on the first bite of the dog. After that, it won’t matter anyway. ;^)

  55. In regards to beans vs. no beans: yes, chili with beans is still chili. People from Texas seem to think that chili was invented there; they are mistaken. Nothing good ever came out of Texas. ;)

    Whether I, personally, prefer beans or not depends on how the chili is being used. If I’m eating chili on a hot dog, well, I’m from Detroit. Detroit Coney shops don’t use beans in their chili, therefore Detroit-style coneys do not have beans. The chili I make as a main dish has 3 different kinds of beans in it. Then again, I use canned chilis (“jarred,” actually) for the convenience factor, so what do I know? ;)

  56. Interesting. A bunch of computer geeks i.e. people sitting on their bottoms all day and yet are obviously able to enjoy spicy food? Aren’t you supposed to have spice-sensitive hemorrhoids from spending all day sitting on your bottoms, like I do? Is there a trick I haven’t heard about? Man, I would love to have some really hot and spicy chili or curry or lecso, but doesn’t worth the aftereffects. I consider this problem a rather unavoidable occupational hazard in our chair-and-keyboard-oriented jobs.

  57. Shenpen, I’ve never experienced the situation you describe. I also take regular breaks and walk around outside when I get the chance…

    My problems with spicy food are acid reflux triggered by eating peppers. I take a pill before eating to prevent it.

  58. Shenpen,

    I don’t know if it is conditioning or having a healthy colony of intestinal fauna. Try taking a pro biotic and see if that helps. I can eat just about anything and have no problems. I take a pro biotic regularly. I can remember having the afterburner effect when I was younger…but no longer. correlation does not make causation….but it’s worth a try.

  59. All right, Eric, you see there’s obviously interest in the community. Time to match Geeks with Guns with a new event: Geeks with Grills.

  60. Morgan Graywolf> People from Texas seem to think that chili was invented there; they are mistaken.

    Not invented here, but what most people consider “chili” was popularized by the Chili Queens of San Antonio during the 19th and early 20th centuries, when it was served to the military personnel stationed here. IIRC, chili is actually a Pueblo dish, but the Pueblo used green chili’s and tomatillo’s, hence “Green New Mexico Chili”, which is usually made with chicken instead of beef (something else the Pueblo didn’t normally have access to). San Antonio is also where flour tortilla’s came from (the American/European settlers grew wheat more cheaply than corn so the local Mexican/Indian population adapted their tortilla recipe’s accordingly), and where most what’s considered “Tex-Mex” originated.

    As for whether it’s good or not, I’ve not found much outside of South Texas that qualifies as “good” Tex-Mex, so you may be using a pretty short yardstick to measure with :^). And no, Taco Bell doesn’t count :^).

  61. >Not invented here, but what most people consider “chili” was popularized by the Chili Queens of San Antonio during the 19th and early 20th centuries,

    I have seen at least one claim that Texas chili was invented by a British immigrant veteran of India service in the late 1800s who was recreating with local ingredients a dish he’d eaten in the Raj. The claim was not merely speculative; the immigrant was named and dated, so there may actually be an evidence trail for this one. I think it’s plausible.

  62. @dgreer and @esr:

    There’s also the Native American legend that chili was invented by the La Dama de Azul — the Lady in Blue, in the 17th century. Likely just a nice story, but oftentimes myths such as these have some grain of truth to them somewhere.

    Also, there are some historians that seem to buy a story about the Spanish colonials that founded the first civil government in San Antonio creating a Spanish stew similar to chili.

    Finally, dgreer, I was being a bit silly when I said nothing good ever came out of Texas, of course. As far as good Tex-Mex goes, we’ve got lots of good stuff at the very plentiful family-owned Mexican restaurants here in Florida. Not only is the food good, but the service is usually great and the prices are very nice. I literally couldn’t make most of the food they sell any cheaper for the price of the raw ingredients purchased at retail.

  63. Morgan Graywolf> I literally couldn’t make most of the food they sell any cheaper for the price of the raw ingredients purchased at retail.

    Yeah, most Tex-Mex things are really cheap if you’re making them en mass and they become expensive if you’re buying in small quantities (e.g. tortilla’s cost about $.05 each to make, but are usually $.10-$.20 each in the bag).

  64. I looked up Texas-style chili on Wikipedia and found a picture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bowl_of_Chili_No_Beans.jpg that looks _exactly_ like a Hungarian goulash (gulyás) – the stew variant, not the soup variant (also called pörkölt or tokány): http://de.academic.ru/pictures/dewiki/103/gulasch.jpg Could there be a connection or is it just a coincidence? Anyway if any of you are interested in exploring the similarity or the difference yourself I can give a recipe.

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