How to win a chili cook-off

The chili creator’s secret weapon was the hot chili pepper and lime tortilla chips.


Forget Fritos. Takis Fuego Hot Chili Pepper Lime chips are my new favorite chili add-in.

The venison sausage was an inspired addition, too, for No. 5’s entry at the Super Bowl Chili Cook-off, but we can probably credit the butcher as much as the cook. Still, quality ingredients count.

He got my vote.

Good things come to those who wait

Don’tcha just love it when the bad guy gets caught?

My Beloved and I were driving on a long two-lane road to dinner tonight. The sun was setting, and we were driving straight into the brightness (it was a lovely sunset, by the way).

The road briefly split into four lanes and the two cars immediately behind us passed us. That’s cool, maybe we were lingering a little bit by driving exactly the speed limit. Then a black sedan sped by doing at least 75 mph and passed all three of us.

“Guess he doesn’t want to miss a booty call,” I thought.

Two miles later, the split returned to two lanes and we saw blue lights a la de po-po ahead on the right. Guess who got pulled over?

Mr. Black Sedan In A Hurry sat behind the wheel looking like he was trying to ‘splain sometin’ to da man in blue.

We continued on our merry, speed-limit-observing way.

Dinner was delicious.

Ode to inertia

We’re heading into the weekend. It’s a new month Sunday. Maybe you’re mourning your unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions.

Time for a pep talk.

Maybe you didn’t get done in January what you wanted to get done because you needed a break.

Maybe you needed some do-nothing time.

Maybe life isn’t about getting stuff done.

This is a difficult-to-swallow prescription for a Minnesota-born girl with Scandinavian and Germanic blood in her veins.

Sloth is sinful.

It’s one of the seven deadly sins you know! I’m sure you know. Anyone’s who’s seen Morgan Freeman crack the serial killer’s code in the movie Se7en knows how deadly sloth can be.


While wasting one’s talents with inaction may be unfortunate if not deplorable, I maintain there’s a difference between sloth and rest.

God created us to rest as much as He created us to work.

For eight hours a day, our bodies are rendered immobile by sleep. If one goes long enough without sleep, one dies, that’s how important sleep is.

If God created us to rest for eight hours a day, he certainly intends for us to rest at other times, too.

There are many examples of this yin and yang (if you’ll permit me to mix my spiritual metaphors).

We breathe in. We breathe out.

The sun rises. The sun sets.

Plants grow in spring and summer. They freeze in autumn and winter.

We are born. We die.

Rest is actually a gift. To feel guilty for taking a break is wasted emotion. We should relish rest, appreciate it for the gift that it is. Rest reinvigorates us for the work ahead.

Watching the clouds drift by is important work. Reading fiction is a creative distraction. Binge-watching HBO television series is, well, it’s sort of inconsequential but not completely worthless. You get my point.

So if you’ve gotten through January without accomplishing anything in the first twelfth of the new year, if you’re wrapping up your week thinking you were entirely too unproductive to deserve a whole weekend of lethargy, I think you’re being too hard on yourself.

You deserve a break sometimes, too. Be fully present for your rest. Savor your inertia.

My work is hereby done. Time to take a break.

For the love of Girl Scout cookies

Monica Lee:

Did you know it’s Girl Scout cookie season? And did you further know they’re available to order online now? In honor of these delightful treats, here’s a post I wrote four (four already?) years ago.

Originally posted on Minnesota Transplant:

Don’tcha just love Girl Scout cookie season?

I do.

I used to sell Girl Scout cookies, decades ago. My mother was once even a “cookie mother” (or whatever you call those harried moms who organize boxes upon boxes of cookies for the little girls).

I love eating them, too. My favorites are Peanut Butter Patties (aka Tagalongs), Peanut Butter Sandwiches (aka Do-si-dos) and Samoas (aka Caramel deLites). Not surprisingly, these are among the Top 5 sellers, according to the Girl Scout cookie website. No. 1 is Thin Mints. Everyone loves mint, but I love peanut butter more. That you can get them only one time of year makes them all the more delicious.

Whenever I am presented with an opportunity to buy Girl Scout cookies, I usually take it. I prefer it when the actual Girl Scout is selling them rather than Mom, but I do what I can. Selling cookies…

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Guilty pleasure: ‘Big Love’

We’re late to the party, but my Beloved and I have started watching “Big Love,” the HBO series about polygamy that ran from 2006-2011.

It’s available on Amazon, and despite my better judgment, I’m hooked.

Why? Certainly not because I aspire to be a sister-wife and live the Principle, heck no (my Beloved couldn’t handle more wives than me anyway).

I’ve always liked Bill Paxton, who plays interesting supporting characters in James Cameron’s movies. Remember Hudson in Aliens? “Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen!” Or how about Simon in True Lies: “No, I sell cars! That’s all! C’mon, I’m not a terrorist. I’m actually a complete coward, if I ever saw a gun, I’d… Oh God, no, please don’t kill me. I’m not a spy. I’m nothing. I’m navel lint!”

Paxton plays the patriarch of the Hendrickson family, which includes his three wives, eight or nine children (depending on the season), three houses in suburbia and enough drama to fill, well, five seasons of episodic television.

The series does a decent job of portraying polygamy more or less without being judgmental. Polygamy, when you think about it, is as rich a landscape for drama as a family of Dallas oil barons or New Jersey gangsters.

Already had your fill of “Big Love”? Don’t tell me how it ends.

‘Stylishly written,’ but not my style

Doc Ford is a man’s man, as described by at least one reviewer on Barnes & Noble.

Brilliant. Brave. Generally unemotional, even when blameless men are executed and fed to the sharks.

It is his amoral nature I object to. When he slept with two women in one night in Randy Wayne White’s debut novel in the Doc Ford series, Sanibel Flats, I was disgusted.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Sanibel FlatsI asked for and received Sanibel Flats for Christmas because I wanted to get a flavor for the series about the marine biologist detective set in Fort Myers, Fla., where I’ve vacationed countless times in order to enjoy my beloved Minnesota Twins in spring training.

This mystery features a complex and interesting plot, well-drawn characters and just enough violence to make it intense without being especially lurid (I would much rather read about a vulture pecking out a dead man’s eyes than actually see it). And gasp-out-loud surprises. You gotta love that in a mystery.

So Sanibel Flats has all the ingredients of a good novel. And I can see why there are 20 more tales in the series.

But I probably won’t be picking up The Heat Islands, despite the clever trail of crumbs White left readers to feed on in Sanibel Flats. I’m not a fan of mysteries in general, and I don’t like Doc Ford enough to care how he drifts through his less than honorable escapades. My perspective on such books mirrors Doc Ford’s view of bad news:

“He rarely looked at a newspaper. Didn’t understand the nation’s habit of clubbing itself each morning with a list of tragedy and doom before trying to go cheerfully into the day. Like arsenic, it had to have a cumulative effect.”

Tacky tacos

I stood in an aisle in Cub Foods in St. Cloud, Minn.

It was about 1995.

It was the “sauces” aisle, before grocers decided to segregate ethnic foods. I was looking for taco seasoning.

For fish.

Because fish tacos were the newest food rage.

I liked regular ol’ beef tacos. Why not fish tacos?

A former co-worker found me in that aisle and struck up a conversation. “Is that you?” “How’s it going?” “Doin’ well?” “What are you up to nowadays?”

Well, I’m making fish tacos, actually.

“Ew … fish tacos! That sounds awful!”

I think I had that fake crab stuff in my cart. What did I know about fish tacos?

I think I selected some McCormick taco seasoning,

My former co-worker (who, by the way, still remains employed at our former workplace, two decades later — this was a man who likes to leave well enough alone) raised his eyebrows.

“You’re going to use that? On fake crab?”

“Sure,” I said. “Why not? It’s fish tacos — just like regular tacos, only with fish, right?”

“You let me know how that turns out,” he said skeptically.

It was awful, I’ll tell you. It’s a good thing we weren’t still working together because I would have had to admit that “fish tacos” were a terrible idea.

What I didn’t know, couldn’t know, on the land-locked prairies of Minnesota in the middle of the 1990s, was that fish tacos were a great idea.

If they’re prepared like seafood instead of beef.

Not lettuce, shredded cabbage.

Not cheddar cheese, cojita cheese.

Not salsa, spicy aioli sauce.

And for goodness sake, not fake crab! How about grilled freshly caught mahi-mahi.

That’s how fish tacos should be made.

fish taco

I was just ahead of my time.