Sunday, December 27, 2020

45 years of the Drydens

I always write my blog posts but today is no ordinary day, it's our 45th anniversary.  So I'm going to let these pictures tell our story. There are no words to express what I want to say anyway. Peace and love. -- TJD

December 27, 1975
Hannibal, Mo.

December 25, 1982, a month away from parenthood.
New York

October, 1988
St. Maarten

Circa 1995, St. Maarten

25 years into this experiment, Dec. 27, 2000, St. Kitts

August 23, 2003,  on our front porch, Wilton, CT

May 2008, Philadelphia

35 years to the day, December 27, 2010,
on our deck, Wilton, with Topanga,
Bonnie and Billy Ray

2012, Naples, FL

40 years, Key Largo, 2015

September, 2019, Auvignon, France

We haven't taken any pictures in 2020 and even if we had, you wouldn't want to see them. Trust me on this. 


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The 10 best moments of 2020

Some folks say 2020 has been the worst year ever but I’m not complaining. 

Sure, I’ve had better years, but 2020 wasn’t all that bad. Like most of you, I’ve stayed close to home, but that’s okay, we have Netflix. Our Scottish vacation had to be canceled but Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye will still be there long after COVID-19 has been eradicated.  And yes, the year started off badly in January when routine cataract surgery went awry, leaving me mostly blind in my right eye. But once elective surgeries were allowed to resume in May, I had a second operation that restored some of the vision.

Other than those blips, 2020 has been a great year. Here are 10 highlights:

1. March 26:  My two-year term on the Board of Directors of my Homeowners Association ended. No more calls from people complaining about the color their neighbors painted their front doors. No more meetings between right wing nuts and crazy left wingers to mediate whether Fox News and/or CNN should be allowed on the TVs in the fitness center. No more emails from foul old people bitching about anything and everything imaginable, from the type font on the web site to the brand of Pinot Grigio served at the annual Volunteer Appreciation event. I have my life back.

 2. May 25:  Though I ordered a single scoop of Dulce de Leche, the counter person at the Haagen Dazs Ice Cream store gave me two because she said the store was closing for good and the owner told her to get rid of it.

3. July 5:  The veterinarian was able to bring our dachshund's diarrhea -- that's what happens when you eat a gecko -- under control.

4. October 19:  I got a flu shot at our local Publix and received a $10 gift card. 

5. November 13:  NASA reported an asteroid the size of a London bus narrowly missed earth. 






Thursday, December 3, 2020

The world's best chili is from ... Hatton, Mo.?

This morning it was 48 degrees here in southwest Florida. Today's high is projected to reach only into the mid-seventies. Where the hell did I hang that Polar Tec jacket I haven't worn since January? No way I'm walking the dogs without it. 

The few days of chilly weather we experience every year in this corner of Florida means it’s time to make my annual pot of chili. Having watched the forecast — I hadn’t seen the weatherman that hysterical since Hurricane Irma — I masked up and went to Publix to buy the ingredients yesterday. It’s simmering on the stove as I write and it’s requiring all the willpower I possess (which isn’t much) not to ladle up a bowl and eat it for breakfast.

As might be expected of someone who was born in Mexico, I grew up eating chili.

OK, the Mexico of my birth is in Missouri, 25 miles southwest of Santa Fe and 11 miles north of Auxvasse, where I was raised. My mother’s chili, which she mercifully served only rarely, was made with something I haven’t seen and have tried to forget for years — a brick of Rice’s ® Chili from my father’s general store. The brick was a congealed lump of suspicious-looking meat, chili powder, onions and beans, to which cooks were expected to add water and tomato sauce or ketchup. The end-result was revolting. (Sorry, mom. You know I loved everything else you made but your chili sucked.)


Luckily, there were places in my tiny town that served up a decent bowl of chili. The Chalet Cafe’s menu, which was limited primarily because the Chalet was smaller than our master bathroom, included a tasty albeit greasy chili. Multiple civic, social and church groups regularly held chili and pie suppers as fund-raisers. I looked forward to the school cafeteria’s chili, served weekly during the winter months, which was always a treat.

But the best chili of my youth wasn’t made in Auxvasse, it was made in Hatton, a tiny farming community a few miles west of town. Hatton consisted of a couple of houses and a Methodist Church where I attended youth fellowship meetings — not that I gave a rat's behind about religion even then but the food was always good. The only other building I recall was a community center where the folks of the Hatton area and their lucky guests gathered regularly for some mighty fine farmwife-cooked meals that often included chili, which was invariably accompanied by pimiento cheese sandwiches. The sandwiches were delicious — pimiento cheese made with Velveeta should be declared a national treasure — but Hatton Community Hall’s chili was out-and-out sublime. 

I’ve searched the world over for chili that good ever since but without success. I’ve had chili in Mexico, Australia, Russia, even Chile. I once ordered a bowl of chili in a Mexican restaurant in Windhoek, Namibia that was made with ostrich meat and it wasn’t half bad. But none have come close to Hatton Community Hall chili.

In recent years chili’s popularity has skyrocketed but it wasn’t all that long ago it was considered exotic by many Americans. I remember one snowy evening in 1978 I went with friends to Manhattan’s Lone Star Cafe, a Texas-themed restaurant/nightclub, and ordered a bowl. My companions, all native New Yorkers, looked at the bowl when it arrived as if contained baby parts. None had ever tasted chili but all admitted they had heard of it. All asked for a taste. Most admitted it was damn good. Several ordered their own bowls.

Today, chili is ubiquitous. You’ll find it everywhere from chain restaurants to bars to fine dining establishments to fast food restaurants. Wendy’s, for instance, sells millions of bowls every year and pours millions more over their taco salads. Here’s a link to a recipe that claims to replicate Wendy’s chili and it’s pretty good. The secret? Vinegar. 

Chili fans can find hundreds if not thousands of recipes online, including some that don’t include meat and/or beans and/or tomatoes. (What’s the point?)

Over the years I tried dozens of those recipes  but none came close to Hatton chili until, a few years ago when, my sister, who lives in central Missouri, purchased at a garage sale a cookbook entitled The Hatton Extn. Cookbook, Vol. 1 and Vol 2, 1992, for 50 cents and sent it to me.

OMG! It contained the recipe for Hatton Community Hall Chili, submitted by a girl I grew up with. She is no longer a girl — she’s a grandmother — but I haven’t seen her since high school so she’ll always be a girl to me. 

The recipe, which calls for 5.5 pounds of meat, makes enough to serve the seventh fleet, so I reduced it and adapted a few of the ingredients. For instance, it calls for “2 lbs. of dried beans”. From what little I know about beans, you have to soak them overnight, then pick through them to discard the rock-hard ones. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Like I said, I don’t know beans about beans. The hell with that, my version uses canned beans. Quicker, easier, just open and dump.

The secret of Hatton chili is something I haven’t seen in any other recipe: Tomato juice in lieu of fresh or canned tomatoes. I have to imagine that Hatton cooks use canned juice made from tomatoes raised in their gardens, but Campbell’s Tomato Juice is less trouble. (Just make sure you don’t buy the salt-free version.) Given the absence of tomatoes, the consistency is more akin to a hamburger soup with beans than to any chunky chili with which you may be familiar. So be it. It’s delicious. Not to mention quick and easy. And it freezes well. The recipe below serves 10. Enjoy.


1 1/2 lbs. hamburger

1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 large can (65 oz.) tomato juice 

1 1/2 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. pepper

2 tsp. sugar (really!)

2 15.5 oz. cans kidney beans

Fry the meat with the onion until the meat is brown and the onion is tender. Drain the grease. Add the tomato juice, seasonings and sugar. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat and let simmer for 30 minutes or so. Five minutes before serving add the drained beans. Send Tom an email thanking him for this most excellent recipe.

Note: It isn’t necessary to use ground turkey if you can’t stand the thought of turkey in your chili. You can make an all-beef version of the recipe but if you are trying to limit your intake of red meat, be advised that turkey, when fried together with the hamburger, takes on the characteristics and taste of the beef. That’s the way I make it and can’t imagine it could taste any better.