Our First Meal on the Bus: Willie’s Chili

by Maile on February 24, 2012


Over a week into our trip and I finally attempted to cook a meal in Willie’s kitchen. Mind you, I use the term “kitchen” here rather loosely. We have a 2 burner stove top, shallow-bowled sink, a small microwave, and 2 slivers of counter space about 20×6 inches each. I’m not complaining; I’m simply stating the facts.

Every family has an “all-star” meal. It’s the one dish you can put down on the table and feel confident that every member of your tribe will eat it. In our home, chili is that meal. (Okay, so not everyone is on board with it—Abra is currently in the “I will not eat anything without complaint, aside from cereal and my boogers” stage, but she doesn’t really count.) Therefore, it seemed only appropriate that our first home-cooked meal in our new “home” should be none other than chili.

The children read and played legos while I chopped and sautéed, and soon Willie’s musty odor gave way to the spicy aroma of simmering chili, making our “home” feel, now more than ever, lived in. And when we all sat down to eat together, everything suddenly felt normal again.

Sometimes, you need a break from a big adventure; you need to feel that everything is ho-hum and same-as-usual, just for a moment. Then you get up and do the dishes in your dwarf sink with a trickle of water so as not to fill up the waste tank and step out the bus door into the warm breeze blowing across an old slave plantation in south central Virginia, and you know the adventure is still here.

And you’re glad for it.

Willie’s Chili

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

½ of a medium sweet onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 ½ tsp. ground cumin

1 tbsp. chili powder

1, 14 oz. can beef broth

1, 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1, 15 oz. can black beans, drained

1, 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained

1, 15 oz. can sweet corn, drained

2 tbsp. brown sugar

1 ½ tsp. salt

2 c. leftover steak, cubed

Whole wheat couscous, prepared

Shredded Sharp Cheddar

In a large pot over medium heat, sauté onions and garlic in oil till softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add cumin and chili powder, and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add broth and simmer with lid on for about 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, beans, corn, sugar, salt and steak; stir. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Serve over couscous and top with cheese.

Now, it could be that we were far overdue for a bowl of home-cooked chili, but this pot received, quite possibly, the ravest reviews ever from my family. Cade confidently declared to the family, and the world at large, “Mama, this is the best chili you ever made!” He is only 8, and not exactly a gastronomic genius (the kid eats Vienna sausage by the dozens), but I did have to agree with him on this one.

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