White Nights

Oh yeah: I made soup too. (Recipes follow...)

Oh yeah: I made soup too. (Recipes follow...)

A few days ago I sat down on my big fat sofa to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games and realized that I was – predictably – hungry. I’d had a busy day and hadn’t had the time to plan something special as a tribute to the Olympics, so I had a great big Olympic Omelet, which sounds like something you’d eat at a Diner in New Jersey. Mine was just an omelet.

Bobby Orr (This poster hung on our bedroom wall.)

Bobby Orr (This poster hung on our bedroom wall.)

Do you mind if pause here to relate an observation about the opening ceremonies? Don’t worry; I’ll swing it back to food post haste. At one point in the program a small group of distinguished Canadian athletes carried the Olympic flag across the stadium. Among them was Bobby Orr, the legendary hockey defenseman of the Boston Bruins. I think of him as a hometown hero, so it was an odd but happy feeling to see this kind of tribute paid to him by another country – namely, his own.

Those of us who grew up in Northern New England in that era are closer to Canadians than we realize. Could it be the cold weather? Boston winters are generally much icier than the wimpy New York winters. When I was growing up everyone’s car had a toolbox of well-worn items needed to deice the windshield: scrapers, brushes, and my favorite, a spray that melted the ice so you could then continue to scrape it away. Forget your morning workout: no one got out of their driveway without scrape aerobics. I am generally the nostalgic type, but I don’t miss that.

And hockey was very much a hometown game – perhaps not to the extent that it is for your average Canadian kid – but it seems like everyone, including yours truly, had a hockey stick in their hands at some point. We skated indoors and out, at places with wholesome names like Crystal Lake and Bulloughs’ Pond.

My brother was a hockey player – I mean, for real. He spent part of his high school years playing Junior Hockey in Canada, and went to college on a hockey scholarship. Even now at the age of __ he plays a few nights a week in an adult league, and he still has all of his teeth.

So now you understand that for me, seeing Bobby Orr, long since retired, carrying the Olympic flag was, well…heck he’s “Numbah Faw, Bobby Aw.”

ANYWAY, I WAS HUNGRY.

I wanted to make something hearty, healthy, and warm to eat while I watched the skiing, skating, and curling. Since the goal was to sit and watch the Olympics, the hope was that I could make something that would last for several meals. I’m all about investing in time up front. Soup, anyone? Let’s face it, this isn’t brain surgery. Making soup, even from scratch, is almost as easy as opening a few cans and emptying them into a big pot.

Chili seemed like an obvious choice, but, with Super Bowl Weekend having just passed, I’m all “chilied out.” Compromise seemed to be the order of the day, and that came in the form of White Chicken Chili, but cooked “con carne” style, meaning with chunks of chicken instead of ground chicken.

Perhaps I was influenced by all the snow I was watching people glide over on my TV, but white seemed to become the “theme” of this meal, if indeed there was a theme at all. I chose traditional white chili condiments and white ingredients, except the one everyone may have expected: instead of white beans I used black eyed peas. But there was enough white stuff already. The translucent crunch of turnip instead of celery, and the starchy chew of hominy needed a little counterpoint to keep the chili from being too monochromatic.

The end result was indeed satisfying: warming, hearty, but minus the richness of regular chili. The heat and slight vinegary bite of tomatillos and green chilies gave the soup (stew?) a familiar “chilliness.” Texans and other purists may not like the result, although I am the first to admit that it is definitely Northern White-Boy Chili. Have I mentioned that I’m from New England?

It was with this defiant-slash-defeatist attitude that I decided to find a substitute for the expected tortilla chips that may have given some salty, crunchy consort to the chili. In my mind’s eye I pictured tortilla chips sneering at what I’d cooked, as if to say, “Sorry hombre, but that aint Chili!” Oyster crackers seemed to be a bit off the mark too, although their heavy, almost thudding crunch seemed tempting.

Cornmeal

Again, compromise: Cornmeal “Saltines” are like the secret love child of corn tortillas and oyster crackers. They are a cinch to make and their salty, dusty crunch and cornmeal graininess are like an oar you can use to row through the richness of the cheese and sour cream you’ll want to dollop on top. Baked, not fried! They are what used to be referred to as “homely”, that is, simple and very plain, but I think therein lays their appeal. I’ll be reserving a few as a solo snack while I watch the moguls.

But just now I’m off to watch the Curling. Sweeping a broom on the ice to make big rocks go farther? That looks like something I could actually do!

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Click here for my recipes for Chili Con Pollo and Cornmeal “Saltines”.

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