Healthy Super Bowl chili

Healthy Super Bowl chili, © 2014 Celia Her City
Cooking for the Super Bowl?  This traditional yet healthy chili is my idea of a perfect game-day meal.

Though it does contain meat, this recipe is referred to in my family as low-cal or vegetable chili, because it produces a chili lower in fat and more nutritional than the traditional kind.

Something I like about the recipe is that it specifies a range of quantities, so that it can be tweaked and customized to suit individual taste.  Typically, I use the maximum quantity of all the ingredients, including the meat and chili powder, but I reduce or omit the cooking oil.  For a milder chili, or one that is meat- or vegetable-heavy, just vary the proportions accordingly.  Garbanzos can be used with, or instead of, the kidney beans.

If grass-fed beef is used, browning it in a separate pan as specified in step 1 may be unnecessary. Instead, brown the meat in the same pot where the chili will be made.  Then add the vegetables and proceed with the recipe, omitting most or all of the oil.

1/2 to 1 pound extra lean ground beef (preferably extra-lean grass-fed ground beef, which has very little fat)
1 tablespoon or less olive or vegetable oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
6 – 8 mushrooms, chopped (optional)
1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes or 2 cups chopped, peeled, fresh tomatoes
1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup chili powder, to taste
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 16 oz. can kidney beans, drained

Traditional garnishes (optional)
Grated cheddar cheese
Reduced fat sour cream
Oyster crackers or saltines

1. Brown the beef in a pan over medium-high heat, breaking it up into pieces as it browns.  Drain off any fat by removing the beef from the pan with a slotted spoon and allowing it to rest on clean paper toweling.

2. In a large heavy pot, using a small quantity of oil if necessary to prevent sticking, saute the garlic, onions, mushrooms, and celery over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the meat, then the tomatoes, stirring to combine.  Add the chili powder, vinegar, and some water if needed.

3. Heat to a bubble; cover and simmer for 45 minutes over reduced heat, stirring occasionally.

4. Add the strained beans and mix thoroughly; again heat to a simmer.

5. Serve chili hot, with cheddar cheese and sour cream as optional garnishes.  Some people like to top chili with oyster crackers or broken-up saltines.

This recipe yields 6-8 servings.  It’s easy to double, and it freezes well.  It can be made a day in advance and refrigerated, which will improve its flavor.  On game day, just re-heat and serve!

Super Bowl cookies from Bittersweet

A Super Bowl Cookie from Bittersweet (Chicago), © 2014 Celia Her City.

As the Super Bowl approaches, thoughts are turning to game-day food.  For Chicago tables, may I suggest Bittersweet Bakery‘s Super Bowl Cookies?

Bittersweet’s hand-decorated sugar cookies are technically impressive as well as delicious.  When my husband and I were there over the weekend, the bakery was selling Super Bowl cookies in several shapes: besides the football, there were team jerseys decorated with each quarterback’s name.  We bought one of each and enjoyed them thoroughly.  The icing on the football cookie even incorporates the special colors of the two competing teams!

Located on Belmont near Seminary, Bittersweet is one of the city’s leading bakeries, making custom cakes and cookies to order, in addition to offering a wide variety of classic tarts, cakes, and other pastries to carry out or consume right on the spot in its popular café.  The shop’s seasonal and special-occasion cookies have quite a following, so if you hope to buy some, you may wish to call ahead to make sure they’re in stock.  Making the cookies takes several days.

Bittersweet’s customers have posted almost a hundred photographs of the bakery and its wares on its Yelp photo page.

Cold-weather Chicago

Cold weather Chicago (35 East Wacker), © 2014 Celia Her City
It would have been such a lovely photograph had my camera not malfunctioned.

I was walking south toward the State Street Bridge after lunching with a friend at the Nordstrom Café.  It was cold and windy and had just begun snowing, but I stubbornly ignored the conditions and took a few photographs with my trusty Canon, because I so seldom find myself walking this way.  Plus, the weak grey light made the old grey skyscrapers look all the more showy.

In the viewfinder, the images looked normal, so it was distressing to get home and find that I had been abusing my camera and that each digital image was split between two different settings.

Nonetheless, I thought that, when processed as a black and white image, this one of the Jewelers Building at 35 East Wacker was still worth saving.  If nothing else, it’s a memento of a moment and a day.

Crossing the bridge was a sad reminder of the two young people who died in the river’s icy waters just a few days ago.  Yes, there is some hysteria about the weather, but there are also real hazards in cold-weather Chicago.

The Shamrock Club

The Shamrock Club (Chicago), © 2014 Celia Her CityThe Brown Line snakes through River North toward the Merchandise Mart on a frigid day.  The temperature is lifting toward zero in a city snoozier than usual, one just beginning to stir after a paralyzing storm.

The backside of buildings opposite the Mart comes into view as the train snakes along. Snow outlines their fire-escapes, a perilous set of spiral stairs, garbage waiting to be collected by crews that, because of the weather, probably won’t arrive.  The normally bright windows of the design lofts are dark, their workers safe at home on a dangerously cold day.

A midget compared to the other buildings, the Shamrock Club is at the center of the scene.  In the perpetual shadow of the Mart, the dive bar asserts its presence professionally, its red doors cheery, its sign channeling some deep strain of Chicago history.

Given its tiny capacity, one may need the luck of the Irish to get a seat at the bar.  For the Shamrock has many denizens.  According to Time Out Chicago, “Strangers are regarded with suspicion here, so stay away from the regulars until you become one yourself.”

January desk

New Year's desk, © 2014 Celia Her City
My January desk is gradually clearing.  At the beginning of the month, it’s always the same: strewn with unused holiday stamps, thank-yous to write, December’s to-do lists (half-finished), receipts from the holiday spending spree.  There’s a file of gift ideas for next year to be put away.

Eventually I tie up the loose ends, at least the ones that bug me, because by temperament I am a gradualist, and orderly.  Organization doesn’t come naturally to me, but I do love order once it’s achieved.  Besides, I’m too retrospective to shrug off all the unfulfilled possibility of the holidays just because some calendar tells me I should.

Instead, I carry a holiday hope forward with me: the hope of connecting, of building up my circle into one that’s warmer and more rewarding, that buzzes with shared secrets and sincerity.  It’s said that “kinwork” falls to women traditionally: that we make the mesh of society, by remembering the birthdays, calling the hibernating friend, lunching excessively, that sort of thing.  Maybe that’s why the holidays ultimately do invigorate me.

So, in January, the work of connecting is continuing.  In fact, the longer it bleeds over, the better it bodes for 2014.

Joint resolutions

Statue of Nike (Winged Victory of Samothrace)
My sisters have agreed to join me in an experiment: to support and encourage one another in achieving our New Year’s resolutions.  We agreed to talk by conference call periodically throughout the year about our respective undertakings and whatever obstacles and issues we are encountering.

Today we had our first such conversation, and, I must say, it was extremely thought-provoking.  It was different from any other conversation we’ve ever had.  That we are even attempting such a thing together is thrilling.  And to have two such thoughtful and engaging sisters–how lucky I am!  Our joint undertaking has already given a new shape to the year—I pray that success will crown our ventures, and that we each grow in wisdom along the way.

Seeking help from others in setting goals may itself increase the chance of their being attained.  In the past, I’ve been satisfied to work toward a few goals each year while not beating myself up if I didn’t achieve them.  Last year, for instance, I set three goals for myself, of which, by year’s end, I’d achieved only one.  Nonetheless, 2013 was a ‘good’ year, in that I advanced steadily toward two of the goals, was happy in my work, and matured in other ways that can’t be readily analyzed.  Having worthy goals is, in my view, intrinsically important: they may never be accomplished if they are actually ideals.

Still, I have reached a state of urgency about accomplishing.  We deny ourselves an important satisfaction if we cherish goals that we never attain.  My sisters are helping me set goals I can realistically achieve.  Research shows that we are more likely to achieve goals that are specific and can be broken down into smaller, measurable constituent parts.  Vague goals, or overly ambitious ones, are demoralizing and tend to be abandoned quickly.

According to Danielle Collins of the Huffington Post, having a clear vision and enjoying one’s achievements along the way are also important components of being loyal to one’s resolutions.  For the moment, Winged Victory’s pleasure is in one small stride.

The statue of Nike, formally known as the Winged Victory of Samothrace, is in the Louvre.  A golden replica of the statue can be seen in the lobby of the Citadel building in Chicago’s Loop.

Winter morning

Winter morning (Chicago), © 2014 Celia Her City. One of my favorite moments commuting on the Brown Line comes when the train snakes along above North Avenue, briefly offering a broad view of Chicago’s skyline.  This is how it looked on this winter morning.

East Ontario demolition

Demolition on East Ontario, © 2013 Celia Her CityAs I was wrapping up my Christmas shopping, I noticed a demolition crew destroying this building on East Ontario, just off Michigan Avenue.  Not long ago, two or three buildings of just a few stories in height had taken up most of this block.  Since I last noticed, they had quietly vanished.  Now, this last small building was going, too.

Offhand, I couldn’t recall what had been here for so many years; I had to look online to refresh my memory.  On the vacant space to the left stood Bice Ristorante—one of the first “New Italian” restaurants to hit it big in Chicago in the 1990s, attracting the famous and fashionable in droves.

Demolition drama on East Ontario, © 2013 Celia Her City

The fine old residence being demolished was more obscure.  Its tall windows, deep bays, and elegant stonework show it to have been a proud product of the Gilded Age, an urban mansion once the epitome of luxury and grandeur, later dwarfed by the neighboring hotel and eventually cut up inside into flats, with perhaps a tarot gallery or dry-cleaner on the ground floor.  Despite the vicissitudes of time, it had contributed its mite to the character of a thriving yet exclusive urban block.

Certainly, its charm was greater than what will replace it.  Therein lies the sadness of the scene.  Gradually, the idiosyncratic old buildings near the Magnificent Mile are vanishing.  As they go, the special character of the area is going, their modest and hospitable air giving way to one of commercial efficiency.

Developers, biding their time, bought up these several small properties, dreaming of putting something bigger and more profitable on the now-vacant land stretching from Orvis, at 150 East Ontario, to the Red Roof Inn, at 162.  The press reports that another enormous luxury hotel complex may be coming.

How tall might the new building be?  The Chicago Architecture Blog surmises that, if an old plan for the site is resurrected, it could be as high as 50 stories.

The blue vase

The blue vase with others, © 2014 Celia Her City
I seldom arrange flowers in the blue vase, despite its being one of my favorites.  In fact, I hesitated to buy it when I found it in an antique store several years ago, even though it cost only 50 cents.

I loved it at once on account of its brilliant translucent blue.  I liked its scalloped rim and the bunches of grapes pressed into its sides.  I even thought the vase, given its relatively crude style of manufacture, might be older and more valuable than it seemed.  Its height and footed shape make it perfect as a base for a centerpiece.  Arranging flowers in it, though, can be challenging.

Blue vase with daisies, © 2014 Celia Her City I take on the challenge about once a year.  I love the sight of this vase filled with flowers when the weather is lousy.

A metal frog is essential to keep the flowers from flopping out of such a shallow bowl.  To keep the frog level against the slanted sides, I place a piece of thin fine foam rubber underneath.  The flimsy sponge stays put underwater, gripping the bottom and keeping the frog centered and straight.

Because the flowers must fan out from the center to some degree, it’s best to choose stems that are firm rather than droopy.  In any event, one will need a fairly large number.  The arrangement above used two large bunches of daisies, whose stems were cut very short—less than six inches.

It’s good to have plenty of foliage or flowers that grow in clusters on their stalks when making an arrangement in a wide-mouthed vase.

Yesterday I used the blue vase for a mixed bouquet.  It worked out well because the bouquet came with many ferns that could be used to fill in the spaces between the blooms.

The bottom line is that I love looking at flowers in the blue vase!

The blue vase filled with flowers, © 2014 Celia Her City

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