By: Kyle Nickel – Base Camp Country Real Estate South-East Indiana
I don’t have a proper recipe for venison chili. Not much stays the same from one batch of chili to the next. Making deer chili in our house is often a spontaneous event when my wife has to be gone for the evening and left me, unprepared, to nourish our darling heathens.
If there is a white onion in the crisper, it will go into the frying pan with the ground venison. I’m not driving to town just for a red onion, though it’s what I prefer. I like a tomato sauce base, but bloody mary mix and V8 juice have got the job done in a pinch. Things become really unpredictable when I open up the spice cabinet. Lots of chili powder, of course, but garlic or no garlic? Generous with cinnamon or just a dash? Will the youngest complain that it’s too spicy if I use cayenne pepper? Will she abandon the meat, beans, and diced tomatoes and only eat noodles if I add pasta?
The answers to these questions are always found at some intersection of creative inspiration and the practicality of what’s in the cupboard. The result is always a hearty pot of satisfaction. Each batch, my son declares, is the best chili he’s ever eaten-and his joy speaks to the one thing that does remain a constant, batch after batch.
Every time my kids compliment my chili, ask for summer sausage in their lunch box, or stand impatiently by the grill while a backstrap fills the air with its rich scent, a pride that has been around as long as fathers have had children fills me up. It is one thing to take your paycheck to the grocery store to provide for your children-and that’s a fine thing too, but to fill their bellies with the cold hours before dawn, the stiff hips of a long sit, and the back ache of being hunched over a table trimming silver skin and tendons-that is a different kind of pride, an ancient satisfaction.
When I was a kid, nothing excited me more than finding an arrowhead in the creek. They were glimpses into a world I longed to be a part of. Living in the woods, hunting and fishing without threat of homework or bedtime is a common fantasy of many boys, I think. If I’m lucky enough to stumble across a piece of knapped flint now, it’s not an idealized version of primitive living that comes to mind, but that a man, a specific man with mouths to feed hunted this creek bottom just like me.
Five or six thousand years later I can hand my credit card through a drive through window and get back more food than the kids in the back seat can eat, but sometimes we sit at the kitchen table and look out the patio door to the woods from which our dinner came and that, I think, is something wonderful.