A Tale of Two Chilis and a Chili Container Candle

“Do you like chili?” asked Ms. Plunkett (not her real name) as she entered the Culinary Arts kitchen at my high school.

“I love chili,” I replied.

My colleague placed a 1 gallon ice cream container in front of me. The semi-opaque plastic container showed that it had been filled with a thick reddish-brown mixture of ground beef and kidney beans.

“I brought you some chili to thank you for all the food that you’ve been giving us.”

Ms. Plunkett was likely referencing some of the meals that I had shared over previous weeks. Since I enjoy cooking (given my occupation as a chef instructor), I typically make enough food for 2-3. Since I know that Ms. Plunkett doesn’t like to cook, I often share some portions of whatever I’ve made with her and her husband.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared Recette Poulet sauté sauce chasseur (French Hunter’s sautéed chicken with mushroom sauce), Fazuľová polievka (Slovakian bean soup), and Cheung Fun (steamed rice noodles which I stuffed with a pork stir fry).

“I was only going to bring you a pint but my husband told me that I should bring you a gallon.”

I mentally gave points to John for his creative way of avoiding his wife’s chili. Despite my autism, sixty years of life experience have taught me to filter my choice of words so as to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. I chose to articulate my thoughts very carefully.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Are you going to try it?”

Good manners compelled me to reach behind my desk for a box of plastic spoons that were sitting on a supply shelf. After selecting a spoon, I removed the container’s lid. Congealed orange grease coated the top. After breaking through the grease, I scooped up a spoonful of chili.

The chili was thick and didn’t have a sauce. It also didn’t have an aroma. I couldn’t smell any chili or cumin or garlic.

I put the spoon in my mouth. The chili was under seasoned and completely bland.

“What do you think?” Ms. Plunkett was almost quivering with anticipation.

Since I am terrible at lying and always feel guilty if I even try to tell a falsehood, I deflected the truth by saying something that was completely honest.

“I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything quite like this.”

“I KNOW! ISN’T IT GREAT?” Ms. Plunkett beamed.

“I’m almost speechless.”

“I’m SO PLEASED.” As Ms. Plunkett practically danced out of my Culinary Arts kitchen, I regarded the chili. It wasn’t the worst product that I’ve ever eaten. It hadn’t been burnt and the ground beef had been thoroughly cooked. I put the lid back over the chili and refrigerated it until the end of the day.

After work I took the chili home. At home I fried some diced onions and minced garlic in olive oil with ground cumin, oregano, and dried chilies. I then stirred in a couple of large cans of tomato sauce and added some beef bouillon. Since tomatoes are supposed to be sweet, I added a pinch of granulated white sugar. As soon as the bouillon had dissolved and the onions were tender, I stirred in Ms. Plunkett’s chili. I heated the mixture until it was warm, seasoned it to taste with salt, a bit more cumin, and some Korean gojuchang sweet hot sauce. When I was finished, I enjoyed a tasty chili dinner.

On the following morning when I again saw Ms. Plunkett, I was honestly able to tell her that I had eaten two bowls of chili for dinner. My colleague was thrilled and has promised to give me some more the next time she makes another batch. Since I like chili and don’t have a problem with reimagining her product, I won’t mind if she does this. Although her husband might not be happy if she makes another batch, I figure that turnabout is fair play since he was the one who initially talked his wife into giving me a gallon of chili.

Texas style chili

Having recently received an order containing an 8 oz. bottle of cumin fragrance oil, I ended this week by making some chili container candles. This has incidentally been a terrible week. Even though we have mask mandates, a Covid outbreak among the faculty have sidelined one-third of our teachers who have either gotten sick or are now in Covid quarantine. Two of our three school administrators are also absent.

Having started the year with 800 teacher vacancies throughout our district, most of our reliable substitutes have been assigned to working as long terms subs for classes that would not otherwise have teachers. Without sufficient substitutes to cover the absent teachers from my school, the office staff found themselves supervising double classes. Two classes were assigned to the gym, two more were in the library, and the remaining two have been in our theater. Although some teachers have provided virtual lesson assignments, others left no lesson plans at all.

With Covid quarantines lasting for two weeks, next week will continue to be challenging for our office staff. Unless the district can find more substitutes, our sole remaining administrator and the office staff will again be tasked with supervising classes for all of those classes who have no teachers. Due to employee privacy rights, none of the rank and file know how many teachers and administrators actually have Covid and how many are in quarantine. People who have Covid could literally be on extended sick leave for months. They could even die.

Given this situation I suppose it’s fortunate that I have strongly reclusive tendencies. If I had been more socially outgoing, who knows what might have happened to me. Even though I’ve been vaccinated, if I had interacted with these other teachers, I could have been infected and I could have gotten sick or been placed in quarantine.

As to how any of this happened, I am told that these people were putting on a show for the students. Since I am autistic, my workplace accommodations have excused me from participation at all pep rallies, assemblies, and sporting events.

To illustrate the do’s and don’ts of our student dress code, my colleagues dressed up in deliberate violation of our dress code policy. During a school assembly, they paraded across the stage while one of the administrators talked about the dress code. For some reason all of these educators decided to take off their masks. Since at least one person was infected, the rest of them were infected as well.

As a result of what happened at my school and what is also happening at other schools throughout our district, the Clark County School District’s board met on Thursday evening to discuss the possibility of passing a vaccine mandate. I watched a live streamed broadcast of this meeting as in-person members of the audience took turns making public comments.

It was easy to anticipate the tone of what each person would say. Pro-vaccination speakers wore masks. Anti-vaxxers did not.

Angry anti-vaxxers at the district’s school board meeting

At the end of the hearing, the board members discussed their thoughts, heard from medical experts, and voted 5-1 in favor of adopting a vaccine mandate for all faculty and staff. The audience erupted and began screaming curses. It was a bit unsettling. I can only imagine how the board members felt.

The board will now enter into contract negotiations over how the vaccine mandate will be implemented with representatives from the unions that represent teachers, administrators, maintenance workers, and support staff. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, an estimated one thousand teachers have threated to quit if this vaccine mandate is implemented. If this were to happen, I can’t imagine what might happen to our district given that we’re already short of 800 teachers.

Before telling you about my chili candles, I thought I would first share some culinary history about chili. There are basically two types of chili in the United States. There’s diner style chili and Texas chili. Authentic Texas chili is made with beef, chilies, garlic, and ground cumin. It doesn’t use tomatoes and it most certainly does not include beans. Although Texans have claimed that it’s Mexican inspired dish, chili – also known as chili con carne (chili with meat), is not found in Mexico. Food historians have classified chili as a fusion food that combines elements of American, Texan, and Mexican culinary perspectives. In addition to chili; fajitas, nachos, refried beans, cheese enchiladas, and breakfast tacos are all examples of Tex-Mex cuisine.

diner style chili (with beans)

Aside from also having beef and chilies, diner chili is nothing like Texas chili. During World War I, the U.S. army established training camps throughout Texas. To stretch their budgets, army cooks added beans to Texas chili. After the war ended and the army demobilized, some northern veterans who had a hankering for the chili they had first eaten in Texas decided to replicate this dish. They made this chili with beans just as the army cooks had done. Since they didn’t know that chili was made using red chilies, they used tomato sauce with chili powder to create a thick soup like product. This dish was later popularized in diners. While Wendy’s sells this diner style chili in their restaurants, Chili’s serves a thick Texas style inspired product. Although this latter version does not include beans, it does include tomato paste which would be a no-no to any Texas chili purist.

As someone who loves comfort foods, I prefer American style diner chili to Texas chili. The tomato sauce used in the diner version provides a sweet tasting contrast to the heat from the chili peppers. Diner style chili also has the consistency of a thick soup or stew as opposed to Texas chili which is much more dense. When topped with shredded cheese, chopped green onions, and sour cream; diner chili is a wonderful meal that I especially enjoy eating on cold winter days.

To make a chili candle, I first had to make a silicone mold for the kidney beans. I improvised a chili aroma by blending the cumin fragrance with garlic, beef, tomatoes, and hot pepper sauce candle oils. Ground beef was simulated by literally crumbling brown wax which was mixed with kidney beans in a “tomato chili sauce” of melted soy wax.

I then poured this sauce into a container with a wick. After the wax had cooled, I covered the top with beans, beef, and more sauce. To add color, I topped the candle with cheese scented wax and a green onion garnish.

Having successfully three container candles of chili with beans, I used the leftover ingredients to make a chili dog candle. I topped the chili dog with some melted cheese. The hotdog smells of bread, beef, cheese, and chili. Given how time consuming it is to assemble a hotdog candle, it’s unlikely that I will make more. This one of a kind chilidog candle will be sold in my virtual store once the store is operational.

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