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Neighborhood chili

by Brian Clarey

Normally I spend my Saturdays off the clock as a journalist, preferring to spend the time berating my children until they get off the couch, or spending time on said couch watching football.

So I didn’t have a notebook — or even a pen — when our family stumbled into the Lindley Park neighborhood Fall Fest on Saturday afternoon.

It started in the Ray family kitchen, where Natalie was making her chili for the cook-off: a non-traditional blend with white beans, chicken sausage, shredded chicken breast and broth the color of a late-autumn sunset.

The kids frolicked in the yard — until one got hit in the mouth with a clump of dirt. Then we loaded up three cars for the three-block trip to Lindley Park proper, the swath of lawn and creek that traces the west end of the neighborhood.

By the time we all got there, steaming pots of chili awaited on the long tables: spicy chili, mild chili, dark chili, light chili, chili loaded with meat, chili made with no meat at all, dense chili, thin chili, cowboy chili, yuppie chili. It was a good day for it — kind of chilly, actually — though the children, almost to a one, refused to wear jackets.

Kids hate jackets as much as they love chili. They managed to sample most of them before they fell into the creek, one at a time. I tasted a fair sample of them myself, and though I was without a means of conveying any notes about any of them, I am left to rely on my own recollection for my impressions.

I know I tasted an interesting chili made with jerk spice, another with what seemed like a pot roast cooked down into its depths. There was one with pork sausage, one made with beer and one called, “Gringo Bait.” All of them would be most welcome on any late fall afternoon.

As we ate chili, a three-piece folk band made a rustic soundtrack and fires roared in outdoor pits. A table was set with cornbread of every conceivable stripe.

As in any contest, marketing made a difference. Seasoned chili masters brought prepped containers of toppings like chili paste, cilantro, cheese and sour cream.

Votes were cast with toothpicks dropped into hot sauce bottles, each labeled with the name of a chili. Some discussion went down within my group about which chili to choose, but I figured that, since I don’t actually live in the Lindley Park neighborhood, my vote was bought and paid for by my hosts. I slipped my toothpick into the bottle labeled “Willy Nilly Yard-Bird Chili” with nether regret nor remorse. It really was very good chili, and popular too, possibly because of the available option of a dollop of fresh avocado on top.

Also going after votes at the neighborhood party were three candidates on the municipal election slate: at-large incumbent Nancy Vaughan and a challenger, Wayne Abraham, as well as Nancy Hoffmann, who hoped to win the District 4 seat from incumbent Mary Rakestraw in perhaps the tightest race of the year. Lindley Park sits on the lower tier of District 4.

The election was still days away, but you can find out how these candidates fared on page 8 of this very issue.

I can tell you that Rockin’ Riley’s Rich Chili won in the kids’ category, and that Poppin’ Sausage Chili won in the general judging.

Let’s hope that the people of Lindley Park see an election as fair, fun and tasty as the chili cook-off at their fall fest.

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