Alaska's Best Chili

by Michael R Dougherty

The glow of Fireball XL5 on late afternoon Anchorage television held us in a trance -

It was the mid 1960s and my brother Tom and I sat slumped teenage style in our family living room chairs wondering if the dinner bell was ever going to ring.

Mom was out shopping and dad was visiting a local Anchorage bar.

When the front door opened we expected mom and dinner -

But much to our surprise, it was dad and he was holding something in his hand. "I think I found a good recipe for chili" said dad. Tom and I quickly sat up looking for the chili. Instead, dad shoved a small book of matches in our faces and offered "I found it on the inside cover of this book of matches - I think we should give it a spin" he said with his trademark grin.

So off we went to the kitchen with our match book cover chili recipe and 3 empty stomachs.

Now dad was a good cook, one who enjoyed experimenting and using his 3 spices of choice - salt, pepper and garlic.

With a large bowl of left-over pinto beans, we began adding the small amount of ingredients called for in the match book recipe. But after a tasting by dad, the master chef, he declared the need to add a thing or 2.

We opened the fridge and started looking to see what was available. Some of this, some of that and we could throw in some of these.

Now we began chopping up and throwing in all the goodies as dad continued to stir and watch.

Then the moment of truth arrived -

Tom and I stood back to give the master chef a clear path to the waiting chili pot, now simmering over the burner. As I recall, dad approached the waiting chili pot with much pomp and circumstance. In 1 hand he held a large spoon.

Now in front of the chili pot, dad turned and motioned Tom and I to observe a moment of silence. Dad then slowly lowered his tasting spoon into the waiting chili pot and scooped up the ceremonial "chef's first taste.

As dad brought the spoon toward his mouth, his left hand moved into a cupped position just below the spoon to capture the slightest spill.

Tom and I stood motionless, starring with our mouths drooped open. Dad tasted the chili.

After a moment of tasting, dad declared "more salt".

Tom and I bolted for the salt shaker.

Moments later, dad was putting the slightest dash of salt into the pot of chili, followed by a bit of stirring. Then dad looked at us and said "let's eat."

At the table, Tom and I plunged our spoons into our bowls of chili like 2 hungry Alaskan bears. Tom's eyes got big, my eyes got big. "Dad" we hollered in unison, "this is the best chili we've ever tasted."

Chili, crackers, crackers, chili - spoon full after spoon full of the best chili we'd ever tasted.

20 minutes later we each took our last spoon full, licked our lips and patted our now full stomachs.

Then the awful truth set in -

None of us, not me, not Tom and not our dad could remember what we had put in the chili. And we were all so hungry we never thought to write anything down. So with tears in our eyes, the 3 of us slowly carried the now empty bowl back into the kitchen where we gently placed the bowl in the sink. We took a step back, then dad, Tom and I all snapped to attention and saluted what we knew in our hearts was Alaska's best chili.

"It is always the simple that produces the marvelous"
Amelia Barr

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