Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Company I Keep

My companion predicted that the evening would be about food shame, but I walked away from Michael Pollan’s talk feeling quite the opposite. Pollan’s premise that restoring community, culture, and the wholeness of foods to eating can correlate with better health and a healthier agricultural system is energizing. The fact that whole foods taste better, and that enjoying them with other people can be better for both the individual and the community motivates me to live in a healthy way—an opposite feeling than, say, a diet. It’s the connection that comes with good food that gets me excited about sourcing, cooking and sharing meals. And it turns out that that connection can serve a larger good as well.

I (like many others) have been a Pollan fan for years, and attending his talk was certainly an act of the converted heading out to be preached to. I am a very new fan, however, of Brene Brown, and I saw her TED talk shortly after I went to see Pollan. Based on her research, she talks about the power of vulnerability as a key ingredient to living a whole-hearted life with a “strong sense of love and belonging.” That connection, as she describes it, is what gives purpose to all our lives—it’s why we’re here.
This, I thought, is why I love food. And it’s not really food that I love, but that strong sense of connection that comes from sharing a part of myself with people I love, and connecting around something that has meaning for all of us. That’s what "In Pleasant Company" is about for me.

I closed out this week of food-and-connection talk with a Sunday afternoon of crafting with my friends, a big pot of chili to share as we prepared for the coming week, and an immense feeling of gratefulness.
The combination of gamey buffalo and flavorful pork was a nice change from the traditional beef. It was good chili, for sure, but it was better in pleasant company.

Buffalo Chili
¼ cup canola oil
2 yellow onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 # ground buffalo
½ # ground pork
14 oz canned, diced tomatoes
6 oz canned tomato paste
½ # dried pinto beans, cooked until almost tender
6-8 cups water
4 large, dried Ancho chilies, rinsed and stems removed
1 T cumin seeds
2 t coriander seeds
1/4 t red pepper flakes
Kosher salt

  • Heat the oil in a large heavy pot. Add the onions and the garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent but not caramelized.

  • Add the buffalo and pork, break apart the meat with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

  • Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste and water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Chili should cook for a total of about an hour, adding the following ingredients as you go.

  • In a separate, dry, sauté pan, heat the chilies until they become fragrant, turning occasionally, 3-4 minutes. Remove them from the pan, put them in a heatproof bowl, and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for about 15 minutes until the chilies are tender, then puree them with an immersion blender (or in a traditional blender) to make a smooth chili paste. Add to the pot.

  • Heat the sauté pan again and add the cumin and coriander. Heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes, tossing frequently to avoid burning. Transfer the toasted spices to a mortar and pestle, and grind until fine. Add to the pot.

  • After the chili has been cooking for a total of about 45 minutes, add the cooked beans. Cook for about 15 minutes more until the beans are soft and the flavors have mixed. Add salt to taste, about 1 tablespoon.

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