Temperatures are slowly rising, the days are becoming longer, and the welcome comforts of spring are nearer with every passing day. And yet…we’re still steeped in what has proven to be one of the more brutal winters of recent experience. Ever the optimist, I look at winter with the lens of a “silver lining” perspective. It has a number of perks: an excuse to bundle up with a great movie, a reminder for our constantly changing world, and (most importantly) an excellent reason for cooking up a hearty meal. My dearest friend (and former roommate!) Jennifer Berg is visiting Boston right now. She currently lives in good ol’ Texas, playing English horn with the San Antonio Symphony. Since Boston and Texas are total opposites weather-wise, I wanted to give her a “warm” welcome back with a filling meal. My pantry just happened to have all of the essentials for making this delicious Vegetarian Sweet Potato Chili. There are multiple “camps” when it comes to making chili – some swear by the use of tomatoes, other claim that authentic chilis should be nothing more than meat and beans. Jenn is a die-hard Texan when it comes to chili, and lovingly called this gem “Northeastern chili”. I used two different types of beans – black beans and kidney beans – and a whole mess of veggies (see below). I’m an avid reader of ingredient labels, and always opt for canned items with as few added ingredients as possible. This often leads me to the “organic” options. Even though it’s a little pricier, I’d rather avoid the cheaper varieties with added “calcium chloride” and/or “maltodextrin”.
What I love most about this chili is that it’s chock-full of vegetables. You could throw in some kale to up the nutritional scale, but these add-ins were perfect for our needs. The original recipe called for canned tomatoes…but seeing as how I only had canned tomato sauce, I had to improvise. I’d just purchased some fresh cherry tomatoes, which ended up working much better than I’d imagined. The key to this chili is allowing ample time to simmer and settle (basically refrigerating the chili for a night or two). This allows the flavors to develop, lending a savory depth to this chili that is simply to die for – meat lovers won’t miss the beef for a second. Click HERE to see the recipe for this hearty dish!
This winter has been a great example of why it’s not always easy to find the “silver lining” in situations – our clothing and shoes have been defeated by salted walkways and knee-deep slush, and our sleeping rituals disturbed by the creeping chill that’s impossible to ignore. But then something occurs to remind us that spring is SO CLOSE, and soon we’ll be rid of all this silly winter gear. Music can have a similar effect – one moment you feel anxious or weary, and the next you feel refreshed and inspired. What better way to seek a “silver lining” in a less-than-admirable context than through music? This inspired my musical pairing for this post: Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77. Brahms wrote piece in 1878 for his dear friend, violinist Joseph Joachim. The piece itself can be viewed as a journey, with a protagonist (the violinist) and a setting (orchestra). The Allegro non troppo opens with a fervent exposition, and the violin introduces itself with a fearless resolve. From there, the soloist takes an extemporary lead – the orchestra willingly follows, alternating between the opening’s intensity and ethereal reveries. It finally ends on a literal “happy note” following an ardent cadenza. The piece then transitions into an Adagio that is both passionate and gentle in character. (Since this dinner was cooked for my former roomie oboist, Jennifer Berg, it’s worth acknowledging the beautiful oboe solo that starts the movement). The Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace is a celebration, as the “silver lining” is finally realized. When spring arrives, I’ll probably listen to this finale over and over again. The below recording (of the first movement) is with my favorite “protagonist,” Itzhak Perlman – enjoy!