Saturday, October 10, 2009

hot child in the city

The kids in my program have access to a great horticulture class in which they learn the basics of gardening and composting. One day each week, the kids travel by van to the greenhouse on the other side of the city and tend their plants, get their hands dirty and, I'm guessing, resist the temptation to assault each other with shovels and spades. Last week I became the lucky recipient of some of the fruits of their labor. "Miss, would you like some peppers to take home?" Umm...would I? I like peppers, especially those toward the really mild end of the heat spectrum. I remember eating a whole jalapeno as a teenager on a dare. I thought the resulting inferno in my mouth would never go out. Ever since then, I've been sort of timid when it comes to anything beyond the blissfully sweet bell pepper. Okay, maybe straight up chickenshit is more appropriate a description than "timid." But when a smiling, wide-eyed Josef offered me two tiny red peppers that he had cultivated and produced with obvious pride, how could I refuse?

Tonight I learned about the potency of Josef's classwork. I made a pot of chili for dinner, and I thought I'd play it safe and add roughly an eighth, maybe less, of one of the peppers to my recipe. Just to be sure I didn't set my family's mouths on fire, I decreased by half the amount of chili powder the recipe called for. This'll be fine, I thought. After carefully mincing the miniscule amount of pepper and adding it to the pot, along with the sauteeing garlic, onions and ground beef, I had the weird sensation of sunburn on the fingers on my left hand. It smelled really good, though, so I continued adding chopped tomatoes, green bell pepper, tomato puree, and a little cilantro. It seemed a little wanting for liquid, so I poured about half of the beer I was drinking into the pot, gave it a stir, covered it and let it simmer for about half an hour.

The final product? Let's call it "well beyond warm." We each ended up giving our bowls very generous dollops of plain yogurt, plus lots of shredded cheddar cheese. It was still hot, but not inedible. The fact that my little guy ate two big bowls of the stuff is enough proof that I didn't use too much of the mysterious pepper. But my hand still feels sunburned, even after washing several times.

I think I'll save a pint of my chili to bring in for Josef on Tuesday, just to show him I appreciated his thoughtfulness. After all, it's the little things we do that mean a lot.

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