Three Little Piggies Chili (2017 chili cook-off recipe)

I’ve posted a lot of chili recipes over the years and I like every one, but some have greater mass appeal than others. Judging by my successes and failures at the annual chili cook-off at work, the common factor in my most popular chilis is bacon! My co-workers fall all over themselves for a taste of anything with bacon in it. So as easy as it is to whip up a batch of chili that I’ll enjoy, this year I challenged myself to make something that folks would absolutely love. Of course was going to include bacon, but why stop there? I started with the general concept of my bacon chili, but I replaced the ground beef with ground pork. However, there still seemed to be something missing. Two kinds of pork just wasn’t enough! So in order to turn this recipe up to eleven, and also make the texture something different from my usual chili, I decided to add some delicious homemade carnitas. The spices in the carnitas are complimentary to my chili seasoning so it seemed like the perfect fit. So I ultimately ended up creating this triple pork chili, aptly named Three Little Piggies chili by my friend Anjanette, to take to work for the cook-off and the rest is history! Second place in the judge’s favorites was a much better showing that I ever expected. Not bad for a mild chili. I’ll have to come up with something even crazier next year!

INGREDIENTS:
3/4 lb maple-flavored bacon
1 lb ground pork
1 medium bell pepper, diced (I like to use a red one for color uniformity)
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes
2 cans (8 oz each) tomato sauce
3/4 lb carnitas

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl, combine the spices (chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, allspice, cinnamon, salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and cocoa powder) and set aside. This will save you time and trouble later. Cut the bacon into 1/2 in pieces. In a large pot (I have an aptly named chili pot that I love), cook the bacon over medium heat. Use a splatter guard if you have one because that bacon grease is hot! Once the bacon pieces are crispy (watch carefully because they can burn quickly!), remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside for later. Add the ground pork, diced onion, and diced pepper to the pan with the leftover bacon grease and cook over medium heat until the pork is cooked through. Add the bowl of spice mix from earlier and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and reserved bacon and stir to combine. Finally, add the carnitas and stir to combine. I am not exactly sure how much I added, but I’m guessing about 3/4 lb. Add more or less to your taste. Bring the chili too a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Put the lid on the pot, but leave it propped open a bit so steam can escape. Cook for 90 minutes, stirring about every 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Based on My Amazing Bacon Chili and My Cincinnati-Style Chili.

Spider-Man 5K (NaBloPoMo day 17)

Last Friday was the beginning of the Avengers Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland. Not only did it take place only a few days after I got back from the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend in Orlando, but it was the last Disneyland race weekend for an unspecified period of time. (Smart money is on the West Coast runDisney races returning no earlier than 2020, but it could be later due to all the resort construction.) I was really glad that I’d signed up for all three distances (5K, 10K, and half marathon) so I could bid a proper farewell to the Disneyland races. However, when my alarm went off at 3 AM that Friday morning I seriously questioned that decision. Having to wake up hours before dawn has a way of dampening your enthusiasm, even for things you love! I quickly got dressed (no sunscreen required for such an early race) and drove to Disneyland. Continuing my superhero apparel theme from the weekend before, I picked my Black Widow shirt and a red skirt for the Spider-Man 5K. The shirt appropriately said “spider” on it and everything! And since it was 10 deg cooler in Anaheim that it had been in Orlando the week before I was able to wear my favorite running capris rather than needing shorts. Fall in Southern California is the best. The 5K snaked through both Disneyland and California Adventure parks and it was a lot of fun. There were multiple Spider-Man sightings in both parks. If I’d been smart I would have stopped for some pictures with characters on the course, but I didn’t take advantage of that opportunity. When I finished the race I got my medal, grabbed a banana, and headed back to my car in the parking structure. It was a weekday and I needed to go to work – after a shower, of course. The Avengers Half Marathon Weekend was off to a good start and I still had the 10K and half marathon to look forward to.

One week ’til Thanksgiving (NaBloPoMo day 16)

Thanksgiving is one week away and I can’t wait! I’m spending the holiday with my dear friend Natalie and her family (including my beloved goddaughter) so I don’t have to do the lion’s share of the cooking, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to arrive empty-handed. What kind of a friend would I be if I did that? So far I’m planning to make my favorite pumpkin dip with fruit as an appetizer, some scrumptious homemade cranberry sauce to go with the rest of the main meal, and Food Network’s Ginger Coconut Pumpkin Pie which is the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever tasted. Even though these are three relatively small items, I’m still a little worried about getting them all done and ready for Thanksgiving dinner, especially since I need to transport everything to Natalie’s house. Fortunately I think I can make all three on Wednesday so that I won’t be too stressed on Thursday. However, the only time I’ve made the pumpkin pie was in Tallahassee and I had my mom to help me! I’m concerned about getting it right on my own, especially I’m no expert at making my own crust, but I’ll do my best. And I’m going to attempt to make a gluten-free version just for Natalie. I stocked up on gluten-free gingersnaps at Whole Foods for the crust yesterday. Fingers crossed that they work just as well as the wheat-filled ones. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (NaBloPoMo day 15)

On November 1st I flew to Orlando for my Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend adventure, but back in August a surprising opportunity presented itself. I was looking at the Disney World website and realized that the very last Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party of the season was being held at the Magic Kingdom the day I arrived. I was willing to move heaven and earth to be able to attend, but would it be enough? The party was starting at 7 PM which was the same time my flight was scheduled to land. However, the celebration lasted until midnight so even if I got there a couple of hours late I would still have plenty of time to enjoy the festivities. There was hope! So I optimistically purchased a Halloween party ticket and prepared myself as much as possible for my busy November 1st schedule. First of all, I tagged my suitcase so that Mickey’s Magical Express bus service would pick it up from baggage claim rather than waiting for it myself. That saved me a little time. Second, I checked in to my hotel online so I could skip the front desk. And third, I slept quite a bit on the plane so I could more easily stay up late and savor every minute of the Halloween party.

I ended up walking through the Magic Kingdom gates a little after 9 PM. As much as I love Disney World, the main reason I wanted to go to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party was to see the seasonal fireworks, parade, and Hocus Pocus live show. Before picking a spot to watch the HalloWishes Fireworks I did a little trick or treating. There were several spots around the park where cast members dole out handfuls of candy so it didn’t take long for my little bag to be completely full. It took me the rest of my trip to finish all of it! I grabbed a salad for dinner to counteract the sugar rush, and then I made my way back to Cinderella’s Castle for the fireworks t 10:15 PM. Disney World sure knows how to put on a show. As a Disneyland native I wasn’t expecting the fireworks to come from so many different locations! It was really amazing. Next everyone crowded around the castle for the Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular at 10:45 PM. This show was worth the (relatively high) price of admission. The actresses were great, there were a lot of laughs, and the music gave me goosebumps, especially “I Put A Spell On You.” It was incredible There were a lot of reasons that going to the Halloween party was impractical for me, but when I saw the Hocus Pocus show I knew I had made the right decision. Take a look at a short video I took of the finale to see what I mean. The last Boo-to-You Halloween Parade of the night took place at 11:15 PM so I hung around the castle for that after Hocus Pocus was over. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to the Halloween season. Before leaving Magic Kingdom I walked around the park some more (and I’ll confess to gathering some more candy) to drink it all in. I finally got on the bus back to my hotel around 12:30 AM very happy with my decision to go to the Halloween party and make my November 1st as insane as possible. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Is NaBloPoMo dead? (NaBloPoMo day 14)

Through no fault of my own this entry was not published on Tuesday, November 14th as planned. WordPress crashed as I was writing this very short and uninspiring post late last night and I was unwilling to stay up and to wait until it was working again. (Have I mentioned how much I hate WordPress? I’ve had so many problems with it. But that’s a story for another day.) So I wrapped up the last few sentences of this brief post on Wednesday and backdated it to November 14th. I guess this is technically a NaBloPoMo fail, but that’s OK. Let’s just hope that WordPress cooperates for the rest of the month!

When I got home from the gym tonight I had no idea what I was going to write about in today’s post. I have a few drafts in work, but I didn’t have the time or energy required to sufficiently prepare them for publication tonight. So instead I went online and looked for the latest NaBloPoMo writing prompts to see if there was one I could use to compose a quick paragraph to satisfy my post-a-day requirement this month. It wasn’t the most impressive plan, but it was better than missing a day. I even considered being supremely lazy and simply sharing a picture, but that’s more of a Wordless Wednesday thing. Unfortunately a Google search didn’t immediately turn up the NaBloPoMo homepage, which used to be hosted on Blogher. So I did a little more digging, and it looks like NaBloPoMo is defunct! I couldn’t find an obvious explanation so I just assume it quietly went away without any fanfare. This was a somewhat sad revelation considering how many Novembers I’ve been attempting to update my webpage every day to satisfy the NaBloPoMo requirement. I think I started back in 2010 and it was a challenge that I was always glad I at least attempted, whether or not I succeeded. And that now the official event is dead I need to figure out what I want to do in the future. Something to think about as I wrap up this month’s posts!

Hamilton tickets? (NaBloPoMo day 13)

The day before I left for Orlando I got an email from my credit card company stating that there had been some unusual activity on my account. The email encouraged me to give them a call. Now let’s remember that this was Halloween so I was not only incredibly busy with the chili cook-off at work, but also trying to get some actual work done before my vacation, so I didn’t have a lot of time to make phone calls. Plus, I initially thought the email was a scam so there was no way I was going to call the number provided without doing some research. When I had a free minute I logged on to my credit card account to see if I could recognize anything strange. It took about 5 seconds for me to realize that the “scam” in this situation was not the email, but the recent $9600 charge on my card! Apparently, someone had gotten a hold of my number and tried to charge $9600 to Ticketmaster. Holy cow! I am grateful to the credit card company for identifying that this was out of character for my account and flagging it immediately. The downside was that my card had to be cancelled the day before I went to Orlando. Not the most convenient scenario, but I got along just fine with only my debit card while I was gone. I just wasn’t earning Hilton Honors points on all of my Disney World purchases. The horror! When I shared this story in one of my Facebook groups a good friend made a hilarious joke (see the photo above) that still makes me laugh two weeks later. I sympathize with any thief who was so desperate to get a ticket for “Hamilton” that he or she needed a stolen credit card number. I just wish it wasn’t mine!

2017 Resolution #2 revisited (NaBloPoMo day 12)

“I always joke that my entire paycheck goes directly to the Walt Disney Corporation. And with my Disneyland/Disney World annual pass, race registrations, and a couple of trips to Orlando per year it’s not that far from the truth.”
1/26/17 webpage post

Back in January, after the shock of getting my credit card bill from the holidays and a trip to Orlando, I resolved to be more frugal in 2017. About ten months have passed since then and I have to start this resolution revisit by confessing that I haven’t exactly succeeded in being more frugal this year with regards to Disney-related purchases. I’ve renewed my Premier Annual Pass which gives me unrestricted access to all Anaheim and Orlando Disney parks, gone to Disney World twice and run several races there, and participated in four multi-day race weekends at Disneyland. And all of that is on top of my usual visits to the Happiest Place on Earth that have nothing to do with running. These are expenses that, while technically frivolous, bring me a lot of joy. I get an immense sense of accomplishment out of conquering the Disney races (including the Avengers half marathon just this morning), plus I get to see the overwhelming excitement on my sweet goddaughter’s face when we watch Paint the Night or Fantasmic. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for any amount of money, but that doesn’t mean they were cheap! There’s some good news for 2018, though. Well, maybe not so much good news as really terrible news with an indirect upside.

On October 18th runDisney officially made an announcement that most of us in the running community had been expecting for a long time. All West Coast races were cancelled for 2018 and placed on an indefinite hiatus. This was not a huge surprise considering that back in March runDisney suddenly postponed registration for the Disneyland-based Star Wars Light Side Half Marathon Weekend shortly before it was supposed to open. (I was one of the lucky few who had already signed up for the 5K using a link sent out to previous participants so I was even more bewildered.) And then they gave us not one word of explanation for the next six months. After this extended radio silence we all knew that the race wasn’t going to happen, but we were still incredibly annoyed at being kept in the dark for so long. When the announcement was finally made last month, current and future construction at the Disneyland Resort was blamed for the race interruption. There’s no guarantee that is the true reason for the hiatus, but we have no idea when or if the race weekends will actually return. So the bad news is that my favorite races have disappeared for at least a year (the Avengers races this weekend were their swan song), but the good news is that I’m going to save a lot of money. Not just on registration costs, but also hotel reservations, food, and merchandise. My bank account is certainly going to thank me, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. The bottom line is that I’ve failed miserably at this particular 2017 resolution, but things are looking up for 2018! Stay tuned for more next year.

NaBloPoMo day 11

It’s not even 7 PM and I am ready to go to sleep. It’s an incredibly thrilling Saturday night around here! Actually, this weekend is pretty exciting due to the Avengers Half Marathon Weekend, but the races cause my bedtimes to be much earlier than normal. So for that reason I’m not spending a lot of time on a webpage post today. Honestly, I tried to write something more substantial. but my brain just wasn’t cooperating. I have gotten up insanely early the last two mornings for the Spider-Man 5K and the Thor 10K so I’m already operating with a sleep deficit, and tomorrow morning is the Super Heroes half marathon. I’ll be setting my alarm for 3 AM again tonight which just sounds ridiculously early. Suddenly going to bed at 7 PM seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. The half marathon tomorrow is going to be the last race at Disneyland for a long time (more on that later) so I want to enjoy it as much as possible. Fortunately the weather is much nicer here than it was in Orlando last weekend! The simplest way to make a runner happy is to give them good race weather. Tomorrow is going to be bittersweet. I’m really going to miss running at Disneyland, especially the Avengers races. Here’s hoping the half marathon goes smoothly!

Halloween 2017 (NaBloPoMo day 10)

Halloween is always a busy holiday, but this year it was even crazier than usual. Not only did I have the annual chili cook-off at work, but was I leaving to go on vacation the next morning. I didn’t have a free minute all day. I got to work really early that morning to start warming up my chili which had been in my fridge since I cooked it a couple of days before. In addition to my own I was in charge of heating up a co-worker’s chili as well because he was out of town, but still wanted to be in the competition. I also wanted to be able to get some actual work done before the duties of the chili cook-off coordinator got too overwhelming. My chili this year was called Three Little Piggies chili, as named by my friend Anjanette, because it contained pork in three forms – bacon (maple bacon, even, which made it Whole30 non-compliant), ground pork, and carnitas. I didn’t get a chance to taste it until just before the chili cook-off judges started their deliberations, but I thought it was delicious. And thanks to my Whole30(-ish) experience ending the day before, I took advantage of no food restrictions and ate a lot of chips between breakfast and lunch.

The chili judges I recruited (actually, two of then volunteered for the job a year ago!) made their rounds at 11 AM and used a very systematic, math-based method to choose their favorites. Then at 11:30 AM I opened up the buffet of 15 chili entries and all of the other food that people brought to the general public for lunch. The chili cook-off seems to grow in size every year so I was running around like crazy making sure that everything was going smoothly. I got in line for food pretty late and most of the Crockpots had already been practically licked clean, including mine. I still got to try a couple of chilis that weren’t too spicy and they were both delicious. I also sampled a piece of the pumpkin sheet cake that I made and it was scrumptious. The white glaze on the pumpkin cake worked out really well. I will remember that for next time, but I’ll make sure to get some higher quality sprinkles! After everyone had eaten and voted for their favorite chili I announced the winners of the popular vote as well as the judge’s vote. Surprisingly, my chili managed to bring in 2nd place on the judge’s list! It just goes to show that adding bacon to a dish makes it infinitely more popular. I also tied with two others for 3rd place in the popular vote. Not bad for a mild chili since the top prizes usually go to the spicy entries.

I wanted to go home at 5 PM in order to watch Game 6 of the World Series to see if the Dodgers could win and keep their season alive, but my workload had other ideas. I ended up staying until 7 PM while periodically checking in on the baseball game on ESPN GameCast. By the time I got home and turned on the TV to finish watching the game I knew there was no way I’d have time to go for a run that night. It was already late and I still had a lot to do. First of all, I washed all of the dishes from the chili cook-off as well as everything left over from making the pumpkin sheet cake the night before. That was a lot of work, but I didn’t want to leave them sitting in my sink for a week! And then I had to pack my suitcase for my trip to Orlando. I hadn’t done a very good job preparing for my vacation ahead of time so I had my work cut out for me, but at least all of the clothes I needed to take with me were clean. The Dodgers did manage to win the baseball game and force a World Series Game 7 so that was good, but I didn’t get to bed until bed around midnight. Phew! It was quite a Halloween this year!

2017 Resolution #4 (NaBloPoMo day 9)

New Year’s Resolution #4: Cook for myself again

I’ll bet you’re wondering, “What happened to resolution #3?” Nevermind about that for now. There’s something I need to do before I write about that one so I’ll get back to it later.

While searching for topics for NaBloPoMo (my daily goings on are not nearly interesting enough to warrant sharing with anyone), I came across a couple of draft posts about the New Year’s resolutions I made back in January. Given that ten months have passed since I gave any thought to my goals for the year, 2017 has obviously not been very productive as far as resolutions go. Fortunately, there’s still a little time to take action and also to take credit for some progress. Case in point, I had absolutely no plans to do Whole30 back in the beginning of the year when I wrote resolution #4 to cook for myself again. At that point I was still halfheartedly eating Nutrisystem meals and snacks, mostly because I was ambivalent about cancelling my monthly deliveries. The premade food was something that required little effort on my part, but I was getting burned out eating the same meals week in and week out. They were edible, but not tasty enough to keep me as a loyal consumer.

After nearly a year where I cooked almost nothing, I started preparing my meals again in September in anticipation for the beginning of Whole30. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. This cooking renaissance reminded me not only that I have to go to the grocery store at least every other day to keep up with all the produce required for a healthy diet, but also that it takes a lot of time to prepare three meals a day! The upside was that I enjoyed knowing that I was cooking from scratch and eating whole, healthy foods. I haven’t written a wrap-up post about my 30-day diet experience yet, but the bottom line is that I was happy with the results. I lost about 6 lbs and I am certain I was healthier at the end than I was at the beginning. Since October 30th my diet has gone downhill a bit, mostly due to my vacation, but I’m working on formulating a maintenance strategy going forward. Especially with the impending holiday season. It can derail even the best-laid plans. I still intend to cook most of my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, but I want to have some looser restrictions in regards to healthy carbs. I’ve learned that I need more than fruit and sweet potatoes to be able to run any significant distance, and I have a lot of long runs between now and the Dopey Challenge in January. In conclusion, Whole30 absolutely forced me, if unintentionally, to fulfill this New Year’s resolution that I made so many months ago. And since Whole30 is more focused on a lifestyle change rather than temporary dietary rules I think it will help me continue this beneficial trend into next year. Maybe it will even inspire a new resolution in 2018!