The preparations started around 9 pm on Friday night after the boys were in bed. I commenced chopping and slicing, chopping and slicing, and was soon joined by Maceo, who was having trouble sleeping since our earlier viewing of the 1970’s animated version of “Lord of the Rings.” (Somehow when it comes to movies, I’ve decided that if it came from my childhood, it must be wholesome. Of course my reference point is off since my dad took us to films like “Dracula” and “Towering Inferno” — I still remember those nightmares. Meanwhile, 3 year-old Van was unperturbed by all the Ringwraiths, goblins, and general gore..)
Anyway, my questionable parenting decisions continued as I handed Maceo a sharp knife (safer than a dull one, right?) and tried to instruct him in how to chop yellow peppers, cube sweet potatoes and remove the seeds from butternut squash, all without ceasing my own chopping. To mix it up, Maceo also helped cross things off my long list – “soak beans,” check. “wash kale,’” check.. I’m all about crossing tasks off lists, so much so that I had him write down the missed item “chop yellow peppers” after we had already completed the job just so we could cross it off.
Not including the extra virgin olive oil and the spices I already had on hand, my grocery bill of mostly organic ingredients for our House Concert menu came to about $49. The main dish is a vegetarian four-bean chili (evolved from a long-lost recipe clipped from the Miami Herald by my sister and thoughtfully passed on) whose only difficulty is all the damn slicing and chopping. It’s cheap, hearty, nutritious and with generous use of spices, quite flavorful. Here are the ingredients, more or less:
6 red onions
2 bunches curly kale
1 butternut squash
2 large sweet potatoes
2 yellow bell peppers
2 28 oz can peeled whole tomatoes
2 6 oz cans tomato paste
@1 ½ lbs great northern (white) beans, dry
@1 ½ lbs black beans, dry
@1 ½ lbs red kidney beans, dry
@1 ½ lbs chick peas (garbanzos), dry
cilantro for garnish
extra virgin olive oil
Having soaked the white, red and black beans overnight, I drained and set to cooking them each in their own pot with salt by 10 am the next morning, each for about an hour. Dry beans are great because of the lesser cost and packaging, and because they hold up texture and soak up flavor well through all the simmering. The chick peas don’t need to soak and require less cooking time, so when I had a pot free again I did them a bit later. Their salty cooking water tasted good when I tested the garbanzos for done-ness so I saved it to throw in the chili. Maybe the other beans’ water would have been good as well but I didn’t think of that until too late.
While the beans were cooking (and Mr. Crump home practicing his bass and minding the stove), I dropped off Maceo and Van at our friends’ Ivana and Bryce’s house to play with their friends Mateo, Luka and Aliya, as has become our custom on House Concert days. At around 1 pm I put on the gas flame under our two biggest pots and heated two large splashes of olive oil. The onions went in for about 10 minutes before I added an obscene variety of dry spices to join the fun. Ahh fragrance. It always varies, but this time was: spillover tablespoonfuls of punch puran (a packaged mix of cumin seeds, “kalongi,” fennel seeds, mustard seed and fenugreek seed), garam masala, coriander and cardomom. I know very little about Indian cooking, but I love and do not fear the spices, all of which left room for people to add their own heat as desired. Alternatively, in the past I have also used miso paste and/or soy sauce, chili powder, turmeric powder, etc. There is always cumin, and always generous amounts of spice and salt too. (After all, the salt is divided by 30+ servings, so put more than you dare.)
(The complimentary dish is a spelt berry-butternut squash salad for which I uncharacteristically follow the recipe exactly. People love this and it goes well with or without the chili.)
The chili simmered slowly for more than 4 hours while we made other preparations, cleaned up some, and started to think about the other hat I would soon be wearing – that of musician. Time to make a set list. At 6 pm the first of about 30 guests, most but not all fellow PS9 parents, started arriving and digging into the food and drink. Kids were dropped off upstairs and served pizza and fun by our neighbors, who bring the young noise makers to their place at 7 when the music starts with my set. For this concert on March 9th my band was Jen Chapin Trio (with Jamie Fox and Stephan Crump) with special guest Martha Redbone on background vocals. So much fun. Then we cleared the stage for the 8 pm featured set from Candice Anitra, accompanied by Wes Mingus on guitar. Gorgeous, earthy and powerful.
It’s a good amount of work, but these house concerts mean so much to us: a vital community builder for our neighborhood public school, a significant if small fundraiser, a chance to discover new talent right in our own neighborhood, a chance to perform my own songs before an audience of friends in my own home, and an opportunity to nurture people inexpensively and healthfully with honest food.
And there was plenty left over for dinner the next night. When the party moved to Mission Sound two days later for me to start tracking my new album, I had a good lunch for everyone all made – generous servings for Kevin, Dan, Stephan, Liberty, Jamie, assistant engineer Miles and myself. So in the end, the chili provided about 40 meals from $50. Need I say, cheaper than McDonalds?
Join me in the making of my new album, Reckoning http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/jenchapin