There is an event that my older boys look forward to every year. This event is attended by more than 125 teens — boys and girls — who come clad in their least favorite clothing. Long sleeves and pants are recommended; closed toe shoes are required.Why do they do this curious thing?
Because they are about to spend an hour and a half split into two teams running around a muddy field playing the most massive and intense game of capture the flag I’ve ever seen complete with arm bands, inflatable toys, and an incomprehensible set of rules. We live in a very rural area, so getting that many kids in one place for one purpose is no mean feat. In fact, about half of the participants are international students at the local boarding school.
This year one of my boys aged up into the youth group that participates. Was he pumped about being in middle school? Nah. Was he excited to be in the big kids’ youth group? Mildly. What had him most thrilled and dominated his conversation was Storm the Heights. He strategized, he plotted, he and his friends laid out game plans that included immense amounts of caffeine and sugary treats loaded with food coloring to make themselves hyper.
It’s hard to describe just how much enthusiasm is attached to this event by local kids. I’ve tried to figure out the appeal. After all, these kids are getting pummeled by each other, they’re trampled, they’re elbowed, they’re covered in mud from head to toe. My eldest ended up with a black eye he didn’t even remember acquiring.
I figure a little parent-sanctioned risk is a good thing. Kids are natural thrill seekers anyway, so providing a structured setting for being a bunch of wildcats (complete with an EMT on site- HALLELUJAH!) is an outlet for the kids’ biological urge to be nutso.
Besides, I was on site, too, trying not to act like I was flinching every time someone came near my hyped-up-little-blond-11-year-old who had looked forward to this all year. Sigh.
Was I hiding in the bushes? No. I was legit. I was the meal coordinator this year, serving up chili to all the filthy, exhausted and inexplicably joyful participants after the event. We had many parents offering batches of chili that were combined into giant roaster pots, but I personally provided the vegan option. Thick, spicy, and full of good stuff, my Smoky Vegan Two-Bean Chili was a hit with meat-eaters, too.
When I serve it at home, I tend to garnish with bacon, which undoes the vegan angle, but boy, it’s good.
Smoky Vegan Two-Bean Chili
Note: To make this gluten-free, as well, use a gluten-free beer, or substitute beef stock for the beer.
1 T. vegetable or canola oil
2 large onions, peeled and diced
1 large red bell pepper, seeds and stem removed and diced
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
4 chipotles in adobo, chopped, with a little of their liquid
1 T. ground cumin
2 T. chili powder, divided
1 bottle of beer
2 cans of diced tomatoes with green chiles (15 oz. each)
2 cans of black beans (or 4 c. of cooked black beans), drained and rinsed
1 can of dark red kidney beans (or 2 c. of cooked kidney beans), with their liquid
1 T. dried oregano
1 t. salt, plus a pinch of salt
Optional garnish: avocado cubes, hot sauce, salsa, fresh cilantro leaves, cornbread, vegan sour cream (or regular if vegan is not your concern).
In a large stockpot over medium heat, warm the oil until it is shimmery, swirl to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the onions and bell peppers and a pinch of salt. Stir, cooking frequently, until the onions are fragrant and the onions and bell peppers are crisp tender. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant. Sprinkle the cumin and chili powder over the onions and bell peppers, stir it in and raise the heat to medium high. Cook for one minute, stirring, or until the spices are fragrant. Add the additional tablespoon of chili powder, beer, diced tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans with their liquid, oregano, and teaspoon of salt. Stir together and bring to a simmer.
Simmer, stirring frequently, for at least 15 minutes. If the liquid starts to evaporate too quickly before that time is up, add a little water to loosen it back up. Serve with any of the optional garnish.