‘Sandy’ is all we’ve thought about for a week. Last week we wondered if it would hit. Then once we realized it would – and directly – we were all about preparedness. Then once we felt sufficiently prepared, we went into ‘hunkering’ mode. Then it arrived and hit us hard. We waited and wondered how bad the damage would be. We slept fitfully Monday night as the rain lashed and the wind whipped. When the sun rose, we emerged, and to our horror realized the damage was worse than we had ever expected.
We live in Manhattan, uptown, far from the water, and on the 9th floor. While there were a few scary moments, we were okay. Miraculously, we didn’t even lose power. While we didn’t personally suffer a loss, we felt devastated for our city and our neighbors in New Jersey, Connecticut, and beyond. And we felt sick for our friends as reports started rolling in about what had been lost.
In these moments, we’ve all felt the same thing, a deep and very human need to do something. Donate, volunteer, support – to be a part of the collective effort to help and heal. Sometimes that means donating money to nonprofits or time to a clean-up crew. But sometimes it means you get to directly help someone you know. And after Sandy, I did.
An old friend of mine lost everything when her basement apartment in Rockaway flooded with seawater and sewage. I hadn’t seen her in years, but still I couldn’t ignore her Facebook status update: “I am dreading the aftermath when the water is all pumped out – will there be anything to salvage? My head is dizzy thinking about all that has to be replaced. I have never felt this way. Ever.”
We hadn’t been in touch in years, but I decided to reach out and call her. I asked what she needed. Could I bring them dinner? She didn’t hesitate: “That would be great!” As I made my way to the grocery store, I called Mom and told her I was making her chicken chili to take to my friend and her family. Mom exclaimed, “You cannot guess what I am doing right now. I am making the same thing for people at the church!”
What is about chili? It’s hearty, offering warmth that starts from the inside and radiates out. As Andy and I sat down to a bowl of chili ourselves last night, I thought of my friend, her husband, their kids, sitting on the floor of a vacant upstairs apartment. Were there chairs? A table? Did they even have bowls or spoons? I wasn’t certain of any of that. But I did know that in the middle there was a big bowl of homemade chicken chili. And that felt good.
Quick Red Chicken Chili for a Crowd
Serve with your favorite of the usual condiments–sour cream, grated cheese, minced red onion, cilantro, hot pepper sauce, salsa, guacamole, and chips.
2 store-bought roast chickens, meat picked from bones and pulled into bite-size pieces, bones and skin reserved separately
2 quarts chicken broth
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, cut into medium dice (about 4 cups)
2/3 cup chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 cans (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
2 cans (16 ounces each) black beans, drained and rinsed
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 ounces bitter-or semisweet chocolate
3 tablespoons cornmeal
In a soup kettle bring chicken bones and skin, chicken broth, and 1 quart of water to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until bones release their flavor, about 30 minutes; strain, reserving the broth.
Meanwhile, heat oil over medium-high heat in a large (2-gallon capacity) roasting pan set over two burners. Add onions; sauté until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin, and oregano; reduce heat to medium-low and cook until spices are fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in chicken, tomatoes, and broth; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until flavors blend, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in beans, garlic, and chocolate; simmer to blend flavors, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle cornmeal over chili and stir in. Simmer to thicken chili, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Turn off heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve with accompaniments.