It’s beginning to look a lot like chili

The Noyes Museum of Art is a wonderful little museum on the edge of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.


The museum celebrates the art and culture of south Jersey and hosts some unusual programs to draw people in.  Last fall the museum hosted a chili cook-off.


I smoked a pork loin over hickory and apple wood and then diced the smoked pork into a black bean, rather than a traditional kidney bean, chili.  I seasoned the chili with lime and cilantro and lots of farm fresh peppers to give the chili a Cuban flavor.  Making this chili is not difficult, but it is time-consuming, both to make the chili and, in some cases, to grow the peppers.


The judges at the Chili Cook-Off seemed to think it was worth the time, awarding this chili Third Place.

Ingredient list
Oil (I like to use La Tourangelle Grapeseed Oil when I make this at home, but it may contain trace amounts of tree nuts, sesame seeds and peanuts, so, if you’re concerned about nut allergies, substitute any good cooking oil)
Unsalted butter
4 large sweet onions, cut to a large dice
12 cloves garlic, minced
10 assorted sweet bell peppers cut to a large dice (green, red, orange and yellow as available)
4 poblano peppers cut to a small dice (poblanos are a mild, flavorful chili pepper)
2 long red hot peppers cut to a small dice (if you can’t get long reds, substitute jalapenos)
1 cayenne pepper, cut to a small dice
1 mexibel pepper, cut to a small dice (if you can’t get mexibels and you like your chili hot, substitute a habanero, otherwise omit this pepper)
1 bunch fresh cilantro, cleaned and chopped
3 pounds pork loin
Chili-lime dry rub (I get my dry rub at Williams-Sonoma)
2.75 pounds ground pork
Piment d’esplet (this is a basque red pepper powder, available online, or substitute cayenne powder)
Smoked serrrano chili powder (from Williams-Sonoma)
4 cans of black beans, drained and washed
Smoked paprika
3 cans (28 ounces each) of  san marzano diced tomatoes
1 can (28 ounces) of san marzano crushed tomatoes
juice of 2 limes
Mean Green (a smoky roasted jalapeno and lime juice sauce from Hoboken Eddie)

Note About Smoking the Pork Loin
If you don’t have a smoker (and I don’t) you can achieve similar results in less time by indirect cooking with hardwood charcoal and wood smoking chips in a kettle-style charcoal barbecue (such as a Weber).  For an explanation of how this is done, I suggest you take a look at How to Smoke Food on a Charcoal Grill.   In this recipe, I used a mixture of hickory and apple wood chips, soaked in water for thirty minutes, and a hardwood lump charcoal (rather than briquets).  I coated the pork loin with the chili-lime dry rub and, indirect cooked the loin in the closed kettle for approximately 1 hour 15 minutes (or until done).

1.  Coat the pork loin with the chili-lime dry rub and cook, as explained above, in your closed barbecue.
2.  While the pork loin is cooking, sauté the onions, garlic, sweet and hot peppers in a mixture of oil and unsalted butter.  Clean and chop the cilantro and add approximately half the bunch to the sautéed vegetables.  Add approximately 2 ounces of Mean Green.  Let the pan simmer.
3.  In a second pan, fry up the ground pork.  Season, to taste, with the piment d’esplet, the smoked serrano chili powder and salt.  (Don’t be afraid to pour the smoked Serrano powder with a heavy hand).  Drain any grease that accumulates in the pan.
4.  Combine the sauteed vegetables and the ground pork in a large stock pot.  Wash and drain 4 cans of black beans and add them to the pot.  Add smoked paprika, to taste.
5.  Add 2 of the cans of diced tomatoes and 1 can of crushed tomatoes.  Add another two ounces of Mean Green.
6.  Let the chili simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally.
7.  When the pork loin is ready, cut the smoked pork into small cubes and add it to the chili.
8.  Squeeze the juice of two limes into the chili.
9.  Adjust the seasoning.  Add the rest of the chopped cilantro.  Add Mean Green, to-taste, up to approximately 8 ounces total in the recipe.
10.  If the chili needs more liquid, add the 3rd can of diced tomatoes.  Stir and let simmer until ready to serve.

Yield – 2 gallons

#29.  Inspired by the scent of wood smoke

You Know You Want to Play




Where do story ideas come from?

Write what you know.  We’ve heard the advice a million times, but we don’t necessarily understand what it means.  We think it means write about our first-hand experiences.  And then we say, but my life is boring.  I don’t have interesting experiences to put in stories.  Which is a problem, because it stops us from writing.  But it’s even worse when it doesn’t stop us from writing.  Because no one needs to read our thinly-disguised, tedious memoirs (that’s what we have blogs for).

So let me remind you that what we know comes from much more than just what we experience first-hand.  What we know is part experience, part research and part imagination.  In my first book (Who is Killing Doah’s Deer), there’s a bit about a teenage girl, Clara Ederle, a Siamese twin living in the Pine Barrens a hundred years ago.  I wrote this young girl’s diary.  It is, in my opinion, one of the better things I’ve written.  And yet I promise you, I have no first-hand experience of what it is like to be a teenage female Siamese twin living in the backwoods in the early 1900s.  I’ve never even kept a diary.  But I knew who this young girl was.  I knew her hopes and her dreams.  My knowing came from some combination of experience and research and imagination.  (And a little bit of luck).  But the point is, I knew what it was to be a Siamese twin girl.  To be this particular Siamese twin girl.  It may sound odd to you, but when I wrote that character, when I wrote her diary, I was writing what I knew.  And what, you might ask, sparked this knowing, this odd mixture of experience, research and imagination?  Where did the story idea originate?  From a comment I heard on the radio many years ago, a young woman, a conjoined twin with aspirations of becoming a country-western singer.  Her sister was not part of the act, was not on stage with her when she performed.  Think about that for a moment.  Her Siamese twin sister was not on stage with her.

Where do story ideas come from?  They come from anywhere.  They come from everywhere.  But we never know when the universe will choose to reveal a story.  So, if we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss it.  We have to open ourselves up to the universe, in all it’s conjoined glory.

And here is the final entry in the diary of Clara Ederle, as recounted in my first book, Who is Killing Doah’s Deer?

May 11, 1930

Dear Diary,

Abigail’s cough worsens.  The doctors will not say, but I fear she has pneumonia and her days have dwindled to a precious few.  Abigail has lived a full life.  She has known the applause of the audience and the love of an adoring husband and family.  As have I.  But the most profound blessing in my life, and I hope in hers, has been the bond of sisterhood.  I know that many find our situation to be odd, but to me it is very ordinary, and at the same time, special.  As I look back through these pages, I realize that Abigail has borne witness to every important event in my life and I hers.

It is funny the way the mind plays tricks.  Re-reading many entries, I find that no trace of the event remains in my memory, but if I ask Abigail, she remembers every detail.  Other entries remain so real to me that I can still feel them in my fingertips and in my soul.

I wonder what ever became of Sally.  Did she find the love that I have found with Patrick, that Abigail has found with Benjamin?  I fear for her tonight in a way I do not fear for Abigail or for myself.

I have spent my life as a twin and one extraordinary summer as a triplet.  I have carried a secret, buried deep, from you, dear diary, from Abigail and from myself, but that summer, there were days, in the tent, that I performed unspeakable acts of entertainment with the gentlemen.  I am not proud of this, but neither am I ashamed.  If a man wanted to do something to my body, it was only my body, never my soul.  I did what I had to in order to survive.

Still it was a glorious summer.  I met Patrick that summer.  And I saw the ocean.  I will never forget that first sight of the endless blue-green water, the sun rising on a distant horizon.  I understood that day just how large the world is and how important it is to find your place in it.  For that summer, my place was in Captain Barlow’s tent in White Sands Beach and I did the best job that I could.  But I always knew my place was here in Chatsworth and I have been blessed to live out my days here with Patrick and the children and with Abigail and her family.  Only I wish I might see the ocean one more time!

Abigail’s cough racks her body with pain.  She needs to rest.  I must put down my pen and attend to my dear sister.  Perhaps tomorrow I will take her outside to feel the warm spring sun on her face.

This loo is for you

Having addressed my literary bona fides this morning, I now feel comfortable blogging about pop-up books.  Call it my guilty pleasure, but I have always had a thing for pop-up books.  Books like 600 Black Spots, A Pop-Up Book for Children of All Ages, by David A. Carter.


I even own a pop-up book about how to make pop-up books, The Elements of Pop-Up by David A. Carter and James Diaz.  So I know a little bit about parallel folds and angle folds, about one-ply and two-ply.


But my favorite pop-up book, without question is The Pop-up Book of Phobias, by Gary Greenberg.  Pick a page.  Any page.

Perhaps you’re afraid of dentists.




Or perhaps (and this is, finally, the purpose of the post) you’re like my friend Mrs. OBL, who is afraid that she will fail to complete her two-item list today, the second item being to post a photo of her toilet on wordpress.


My Literary Bona Fides

As a writer of genre fiction, sometimes I feel the need to “prove” my literary bona fides.  I originally wrote this in 2009, but it remains equally true today.  I realize that some of you have seen this before, but starting a new blog, it seems important to establish my bona fides for new readers.

I was going through stacks of old books yesterday.  Came upon two copies of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – a 1917 edition and a 1937 edition.  Of course I selected the 1937 edition.  After all, the earlier edition was only complete through 1917.

The best writing for television

It’s easy to make fun of bad writing on television.  The television landscape is littered with bad writing.  But there is also great writing on television.  The Writers’ Guild of America has recently announced its choices for the 101 best written TV series.

The top ten, best-written TV series, according to the Writers’ Guild are

1.  The Sopranos
2.  Seinfeld
3.  The Twilight Zone
4.  All in the Family
5.  M*A*S*H
6.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show
7.  Mad Men
8.  Cheers
9.  The Wire
10. The West Wing

It’s not an unreasonable list, but when I scroll down the rest of the list and I don’t see Northern Exposure until #53, Fawlty Towers until #58 and I Claudius until #76, I realize it’s time to re-draft the list.

So here are the top ten, best written series for TV, according to me.

1.  The Twilight Zone
2.  I Claudius
3.  All in the Family
4.  M*A*S*H
5.  Fawlty Towers
6.  Taxi
7.  Seinfeld
8.  Northern Exposure
9. The West Wing
10. Chicago Hope (the first season, and only the first season)

Here’s a link to the 101 Best Written TV Series

What say ye?