She Was a Thunderstorm

As you may have noticed, there is no moral to these missives, no takeaways, no hard-earned truths. I mean, who am I to preach? Such a slow learner, me.

My approach to life is very simple: Avoid fast food and stemless wine glasses.

Here’s the deal: Stemless wine glasses warm the wine too much in your hand. I blame restaurants. A while back, restaurant managers started using stemless wine glasses as a solution to fragile stemmed glasses that kept breaking. Then customers, always too quick to follow any trend, started buying stemless glasses for the home.

Don’t. Stemmed wine glasses are the stiletto heels of the kitchen. They are sassy, elegant, flirty, fun. They capture moonlight the way Keats captures the heart.

And about fast food: If there’s one thing that shouldn’t be fast, it’s food. A meal should be fussed over, licked, loved. You’re going to shove that stuff in your mouth, after all.

As I’ve noted before, all happiness begins with the mouth: a smile, a kiss, a laugh, a memorable quip, a cheesy burger.

Another example, hollandaise sauce (our best sauce). Generally, the happiness starts when you transfer the hollandaise sauce across the tongue to the pleasure centers of your bod, wherever they happen to be. (I keep mine in my small, tightly packed brain. You probably keep yours in your belly.)

All good. No judgment. Point is: Happiness begins with the mouth. Is there another part of the body responsible for so much pleasure?

Wow, look where your mind goes. I mean really.

I was telling my new sidekick Suzanne that “wow” is my favorite word. Technically, it’s an interjection. Like “aw shucks.” Sometimes it’s a verb. It’s almost impossible to mispronounce. Babies can say it. Grandmas can say it. Forms the mouth into one of those cartoon train tunnels. Come on, say it: Wooooooow.

Flip it upside down and wow becomes mom. Is there another word that does that? I doubt it, though as noted, I have a small, tightly packed brain. I’m also the type of person who puts cheesecake on his granola. So take everything I say with a grain of sugar.

By the way, I saw “Being the Ricardos” the other night. Wow. Three thumbs up. Much better than I expected. Russell Crowe played Lucy. Wait, no. Nicole Kidman I think. Always getting my Aussies confused. Never understand a word they say, mate.

Then I saw “Westside Story.” Wow, was that a dud. Spielberg? Wow.

Spielberg used to wow us with his work. Now his movies are no fun at all, having lost their magic, their kooky and boyish sense of play. Their stardust.

What wows you anymore — what song, what movie? “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” wowed me but not the Academy, which seems smitten with snoozy, artsy flicks that inevitably make me feel a little nauseous.

DEAR HOLLYWOOD: MAKE A MOVIE, ALREADY! MAKE ME LAUGH, FALL IN LOVE, CRY, CHEER, ANYTHING. GET OUT OF YOUR OWN HEAD AND WOW ME.

Sorry, sometimes I get emotional. It’s just that…I don’t know, doctor, I just feel so out of touch sometimes — such an antiquity, such a chest of drawers.

OK, some new things I really like: Billie Eilish.

That’s about it.

There’s such a wistfulness to her music. I taste a little bit of Mama Cass, a little bit of Jimmy Webb, a big dash of Amy Winehouse.

OK, I’ll confess: I also like the new Corvettes, they’re pretty cool too. I like labradoodles, breakfast bowls and how, these days, they’ll deliver just about anything to your front door: wrenches, weed, Chesapeake crabs.

Wow, we live in interesting times, don’t we? I say we embrace them. I say we pursue a balanced life, with some old things, a few new things – not too many. In particular, avoid stemless wine glasses, fast food and movies.

Just remember, all happiness begins with the mouth.

With that in mind, I pass along this recipe for Chasen’s famous chili. Chasen’s chili might be America’s most-famous chili. Elizabeth Taylor used to order it shipped to her on set in Rome. Jack Benny used to order it by the tanker truck.

For you young-‘uns who might not know Elizabeth Taylor; she was an actress, she was a thunderstorm, she was our national velvet. She came along at a time when actors had star power and panache. Another good word, panache. Sounds like something you should keep in your liquor cabinet at home. Bitters and panache, near that dusty old bottle of Kahlua you hardly ever use.

Well, you’ll use it in this marvelous chili. Kahlua is the secret sauce in this very solid version of Chasen’s famed chili.

Thank you, Cathy Walker Montgomery, the reader who passed this recipe along. Please note that Jimmy Breslin never ran stuff like this, nor did Royko, or even the great Jim Murray. If I had one gripe with Shakespeare, it’s that he didn’t run enough recipes.

So thank you, Cathy, for passing along this tasty antiquity, this marvelous link to a grand-dame Beverly Hills restaurant, where they once served slow food to fast people.

Wow. Just wow.

Chasen’s Famous Chili

Ingredients:

1/2 pound dried pinto beans

Two 16-oz cans of crushed tomatoes

1 pound green peppers (cored, seeded and chopped)

1.5 tablespoons vegetable oil

1.5 pounds chopped onions (3-4 medium onions)

2 cloves garlic crushed (I add more, how can one go wrong with more garlic?)

1/2 cup parsley finely chopped

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

2.5 pounds of chuck steak (Ask your butcher for a “chili” grind, yes, it’s chunkier than regular ground beef, who knew?)

1 pound lean pork (also “chili grind”)

1/2 cup chili powder

2 tsp salt

1.5 tsp black pepper

1.5 tsp ground cumin

1/2 cup of Kahlua, the liqueur

Directions:

Rinse beans. Place in a large bowl and add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Soak overnight. The next day place beans and soaking water in a large, heavy pot. Simmer, covered until tender, about 40 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, sauté green peppers in veggie oil for 5 minutes. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and parsley. Remove from heat and pour into a large bowl.

In the same skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Brown the chuck and pork, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Stir in chili powder and reserved onion mixture. Cook for 10 minutes. Add meat and onion mixture. Season with salt, pepper and cumin. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Remove cover and cook 30 minutes longer. Skim any fat off the top.

You could serve now, but restaurant owner Dave Chasen would let it cool, then cover and put in the fridge overnight, for the flavors to blend.

BIG NOTE: Often Chasen would enter the restaurant to oversee the cooking, and then would add his “SECRET INGREDIENT” … 1/2 cup of KAHLUA! (add last 15 minutes prior to serving)

–submitted by Cathy Walker Montgomery, who drew this from two sources: “Great Recipes from Los Angeles – Favorite Dishes from the City’s Leading Restaurants” and a Nancy J. Patrykus post on Justapinch.com, the cooking site. The Kahlua trick came from Patrykus. Her recipe can be found by clicking here.

Another round of applause for all those who contributed to the family fund at our local church, my late wife’s favorite charity (besides me, of course). Your donations will go to parent-ed classes and homeless outreach. To date, we’ve raised almost $8,000. Your generosity blows me away. Teachers always said I’d never amount to much, and they were right. But at least there’s this. Donations are still being accepted at this link.  Scroll down to “Give to support Cathy and Christopher Erskine…” If you prefer, you can send a check to La Canada Presbyterian Parent Ed, 626 Foothill Blvd., La Canada CA 91011. I thank you. Catty Cakes thanks you. And somewhere I’m sure, Posh thanks you.

19 thoughts on “She Was a Thunderstorm

  1. That picture of Catty Cakes? Wow. Just Wow. Your tightly packed brain has served up yet another delightful post! Thanks for the recipes, too. You make Wednesdays and Saturdays worth getting out of bed for.

  2. Standing here making chili for the uptown parades (it’s Endymion Saturday by you, right?) and I get a notification that you have a recipe I should check. Yours doesn’t have crawfish in it.

  3. Sublime sauce, sublime musing, sublime riffing. Thinking of favorite words, Lovely always comes to mind. Turn it upside down and you get a tangle of limbs, those stilleto heels and cupcake miniskirts flashing in the sunlight ( think The Pointer Sisters Jumping For Love) and a certain violet eyed actress with a nose you wanted to brush with your lips, and lips you yearned to work inside. Where oh where is the movie that gives you any of this? The last one was “La La Land”; or maybe The Shape Of Water. Lovely IS wow to me; in all its dimensions. Sublime Super Sauce. Sublime Suzanne, in my memory; and maybe now, in your eyes.

  4. “Stemmed wine glasses are the stiletto heels of the kitchen. They are sassy, elegant, flirty, fun.” Wow…

  5. And stemless wine glasses can be challenging to hold onto. Just ask my mom, Dolores who turned 90 last September. She’d end up cradling the glass with both hands afraid it would slip out of her grip (quite possible.) So now only stiletto heel wine glasses for Dolores. And ditto the sentiment on the adorable Catty Cakes pic…those Vince Lombardi trophy cheeks are TOO CUTE ☺️

  6. Elizabeth Taylor. When I was in high school, many ppl told me I looked like her. Could never see the resemblance. Don’t even have blue eyes. Go figure.
    This was a chance to escape for a while—wine, recipes (a good one in Macbeth) and anything to get away for a while. Served wine in vintage (1969) Iitala glassware from Finland the other night. These glasses don’t tip over.Perfect for drinkers. Ok, no stems…We all shared our memories of Paris..l‼️
    My late neighbor Marshall made the BEST chili. Only for block parties, though, back when our little street was a real neighborhood band not a gazillionaires vacation-home tax write-off. Gallons of it. This stuff brought everyone out into the street. I found out Jamie Lee (you know the rest) lived up the street. In her 20s, short hair, coveralls. Sweet yet tough as nails. There were others, but that’s another story. I really miss those times. Things happen, you know.
    Pour one for Ukraine.
    h. 🤗🤗🐾😁‼️

  7. Go see Belfast. The little kid is amazing as is everyone else. Summer of 69…moon landing, Woodstock, and Belfast. You’ll think that has the Oscar

  8. Chris………Wonderful piece! And a pic of Catty Cakes. When I see an early movie of Elizabeth Taylor’s I marvel that she was only 18 when she made them.

  9. Chris – Thank you for the chili recipe! As someone who prefers to make reservations for dinner (oldie, but true), this looks like one even an inept cook like me can accomplish. I’ll let you know if I do, and if it ends up being edible.

    Also, thank you for confirming why I refuse to see Speilberg’s WWS. If it ain’t broke, don’t remake it!

    And … Being of an age where I read Breslin, Royko and Murray, having your columns to enjoy makes me miss them so much less! Keep on keeping on. And, If chili turns out ok, you’ll be invited to enjoy it with a glass of cabernet in a stemmed wine glass!

  10. Forgot to mention, we have a Chasen’s menu from the circa 1955, framed, because on the back is an autograph of Alfred Hitchcock replete with his signature profile, which was how he did all his autographs. We actually took it to an taping of Antiques Roadshow and the menu was worth more than the autograph!! Hope my version of their chili turns out as good as the original!!

    PS – We have YOUR autograph too, from your Baseball Reliquary recognition. But your too young for it to be an antique … yet!

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