Saturday, February 27, 2010


When Might of Right first heard that the Italian Chef and TV personality Beppe Bigazzi, the white haired, 77-year-old host of a popular morning program that offers food tips and recipes in a country renowned for its cuisine, had recently proclaimed - whilst on the air - the virtues of Tuscan Cat Stew which he had “enjoyed many times”, we were both bemused though mostly disgusted. Bigazzi continued by offering detailed, seemingly hands-on advice on how to tenderize cat and then admitted, "I've eaten it myself and it's a lot better than many other animals. Better than chicken, rabbit or pigeon." We initially surmised that this had to be a lighthearted, even comedic, prattle gone terribly awry. But, the more we heard and saw it was obvious that this guy went totally off into some culinary La La Land where even if true, shouldn’t be the topic for polite company let alone a contemporary European TV food show. Interestingly, Bigazzi is the author of Cooking with Common Sense, an ingredient sorely lacking in his current persona and approach to this issue.

Whatever his motivation, Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI), the Italian public service broadcasting network indefinitely suspended and now has dropped the good chef from their show. Beppe in an apparent attempt to spin his very public, on air revelations and recover himself (phase one) stated that he had only been joking about the recipe, and that he had been misunderstood. Now (phase two) he states that he was offering it from an historical perspective. We, however, think his original TV presentation while abhorrent was sincerely offered. We note that his producers and co-host during a commercial break tried to get Bigazzi to apologize and recant. He refused.

The skin of his teeth, mercurial and self affected Bigazzi though just doesn’t know when to quit given that after offering that he was joking added: “Mind you, I wasn’t joking all that much. In the 1930s and 1940s, when I was a boy, people certainly did eat cat in the countryside around Arezzo.”

Can’t you just see Master Chefs like Dean Fearing, Mario Batali, Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagazzi, Paul Prudhomme, Alton Brown, Wolfgang Puck, Gerry Garvin, Rachael Ray, Gordon Ramsay (maybe) or three late, great masters of the culinary art including an iconic and much parodied Julia Child, the great Cajun Cook Justin (Nutria Piquante) Wilson or an eccentric James Beard even in their heydays addressing this issue? Don’t think so… If we think highly of Chef Bigazzi then we should pursue the explanation that this was more an exercise where he waxed nostalgic like he was digging into a nice Cornish Muggity Pie invoking some past survival mode culinary practice in tougher economic times – again, one no longer in practice. We guess that this could also be a terribly misplaced intellectual curiosity where he was ultimately sold down the culinary river by some very titillated and amused hedonistic faux kitchen historians. We choose the former.

Bigazzi offered that this recipe for cat stew was a famous and very popular dish in the 1930s and 1940s in his home region of Valdarno in the valley of the River Arno in Tuscany. We note that historians have confirmed that other cities in northern Italy such as Vicenza reasonably devised cat recipes in times of economic hardship including those same war years. What’s good for Valderno is apparently OK for Arezzo and Vicenza noting that the inhabitants of Vicenza were ultimately derisively known to other Italians as magnagati, “cat eaters.”

Foraging and scavenging for food in WWII Europe especially in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and other countries was serious hunting and gathering revisited and often the difference between life and death, witness the documented behaviors reflected in The Pianist. That meant finding sustenance by any means. You made do with what you could beg, borrow, steal or found or caught. We suspect that anything four legged or not was in the bulls eye and that included cat.

We noted one food forum with the following comment, “WWII cat was on the menu in Chianti, this seems to be a common pattern of behaviour during periods of food crisis. Once normal food supplies resume, the old taboos mostly come back quite quickly. Not in all cases though.” We understand that even to this day some butcher shops sell rabbits with their feet on to assure buyers that they are not cats.

Consistent with not so kinder times for our Feline Friends Ruperto de Nola, chef to the king of Naples in his 1529 treatise on cookery, Libro de Cocina, recommended and offered his infamous recipe for roasted cat, 'Gato asado como se quiere comer'. I have seen references to other cookbooks that feature gatto/cat. It is estimated that millions of cats from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century (thanks to the Catholic Church) were exterminated because of the sinister belief they were involved in witchcraft. In fact, this less than enlightened practice saw many of their owners meet the same fate.

So, what does the Bible of Cookery, Larousse Gastronomique, say all about this? My 1961 Larousse, the original English translation of this most renowned encyclopedia of food was a rite de passage gift from my Mother (surely anticipating this day) and offers critical perspectives on the table of the world. Yes, cat is there - “Cat. Chat – Domestic cat whose edible meat has a flavour halfway between that of rabbit and that of hare. Cat’s meat has often been eaten in periods of famine or of siege. Legend has it that in the cook-shops the cat is often used in the making of rabbit fricassées. Examination of the bones would easily enable one, in case of doubt, to distinguish between the one animal and the other.” There is no recipe for cat and the gauntlet is surely cast identifying it mostly as a last resort source of protein for humans.

Fast forward sixty years from World War II and you have a different world. Post war Europe and Tuscany are not in the midst of war or famine and the culture that fomented and nourishes a much appreciated and admired contemporary cuisine has moved on. Not so the good the jaundiced Chef Bigazzi who apparently still embraces a vicarious survival mentality in an era of plenty.

If we buy into Beppe’s explanation then this writer still wonders when the last time this geriatric culinary whiz prepared and ate cat. His initial revelation smacks of a contemporary experience. Let’s check his passport and find the last time he was in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia or Vietnam where cat remains an integral part of their diet. Or, maybe we should note when he last went home to Arezzo…

We see credible reports on the Internet that cat was consumed in Great Britain (roof rabbit) and is still consumed in Peru and Switzerland. If you want a really chilling glimpse at the current demand for this product you can slide on over to Kitty Beef
the, “online Premium Cat Meat Supermarket, where you can order your meat, and have it delivered in vacuum sealed freshness directly to your door.” Yep, this company operates what they call “free range cat farms” the source of their “premium grade cat”. Or, if you really want to get grossed out – and despite the protestations and serious advice of Asian medical doctors - how about some Korean, “Liquid Cat” for your arthritis?

Just when I thought I could take no more, my anthropologist genes kicked in. After some serious research I soon came to the conclusion that the consumption of cat is not an ancient practice, rather a recent invention born of necessity. Primordial Man probably consumed anything he could lay his hands on though the archeological record reflects that Man and Cat have been hanging out (even buried) together for 9,500 or more years. However, if this animal was consumed in ancient “civilized” times it may have been mostly a deviation from the norm then as it is today.

The Egyptians literally worshipped the cat while ancient Greeks and Romans associated the cat with the goddesses Artemis and Diana respectively. We have seen references to the domestication of cats by the Etruscans even to the painting of cats on the walls of their tombs.

Closer to my cultural home the Norse Freya, goddess of love, beauty, and fertility who is referenced in other Scandinavian cultures is depicted riding in a golden chariot drawn by Bygul and Trjegul, her two revered silvery Norwegian Forest Cats. The presence of cats was a good omen and even the thought of eating a sacred icon would have been unfathomable and, yes, abhorrent. In some cultures if you killed a cat, your life was immediately forfeit.

Cats have been and remain sacred and venerated in many other cultures though we are aware of the aberrations cited in this post. We, like our Feline Friends, continue to evolve and the cat for many including this writer is our connection with nature and our own primordial past. Man’s relationship with the Cat has persevered through ancient times and the Middle Ages to the present where from educated eyes we know them to be magnificent companion creatures who in a true symbiosis have protected, entertained and comforted us since they chose to be civilized.

Having said that (I’m no ethnocentric), I do not begrudge other cultures their affectations and that includes their diets and choice of foods. We do, however, need to keep in context Bigazzi’s remarks in an Italian contemporary frame of mind. One of the ancient cited cultures which once revered the cat is now consuming it as a culinary delight? It would appear that the good and now openly eccentric Chef Bigazzi’s troubles have just begun and he is no doubt destined for more hard times. Cats are protected in much of the civilized world and Italian law forbids killing and cooking cats in Italy - punishable by up to 18 months in jail, hence his protestations. We have been assured that the local version of the Italian Chamber of Commerce has their spin doctors at work.

Waste not, want not. Think I’ll go and have some Haggis and Monkey Toes with a side of Hunan Rabbit Ears while reading Swift’s A Modest ProposalThe vegans are loving this….

Love and Kisses from Ms. Sophie Baggins, a very large Maine Coon, 3rd cousin, thrice removed to Catti Mohr a 24 pound naturalized Highland Norwegian Forest Cat from Ben Nevis who loves lasagna, ravioli and tacos.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Yes, there really is a Tulip, Texas – in northeast Texas, east of Denison, twelve miles north of Bonham and south of the Tulip Bend of the Red River (hence its name) - just about on the Texas-Oklahoma line and 81 miles north and east of my home in Dallas. Not a whole lot of folks live in Tulip now and the once productive farmland of that area has since been turned into cattle ranches.

Tulip was the fictitious home of Doc Golightly, horse doctor and erstwhile abandoned husband of the runaway Lula Mae Barnes aka the over the top, very disturbed Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (BAT) fame. I have no idea where BAT author Truman Capote conjured up Tulip though with eyes closed pointing to a spot on a Southern US map works for me…

The 1961 Breakfast at Tiffany’s film defined a whole generation and part of the life of this writer. I know of a young man who first fell in love with an equally young local Lady from Pittsfield, Massachusetts to the strains of Moon River only to have his heart broken when she went out with one of his Friends who was only trying to “show him her true spots”. He never saw her again… Turns out she was the epitome of the untamed Holly, the flirtatious and enigmatic Texas fugitive who owed no allegiance to anybody while seeking sanctuary and security somewhere else.

The scene where Holly plays the guitar and nostalgically sings what is unquestionably the greatest version of
Moon River attracting the attention of burned out writer Paul “Fred” Varjak (George Peppard) has for me been one of the more memorable scenes in all of cinema. Varjak looks down from his above window to the lithe and beautiful Holly (with those incredible eyes) who sitting on the sill of her open window by the fire escape was wistfully finishing the song. Holly sees her ultimate Huckleberry Friend Paul and peers up at him with that incomparable smile and once in a lifetime look of innocent acknowledgement and pure hello. He responds and the rest is history… Though while separately negotiating the hurdles of complicated lives the two develop a symbiosis and end up rescuing each other (“There once was a very lovely, very frightened little girl…”). I know Andy Williams surely appreciated that scene and song as it continues to define his career…

We learn early in the movie that the “innocent and experienced” Holly Golightly with all of her absurdities and crazy yearnings is a confusingly complicated, multi-faceted character. Indeed, we ultimately discover that this former barefoot child bride is a courtesan (OK a call girl).

Capote’s relentless pursuit of a harsher reality in his novella gives us no hope of a happy future. Holly is always in a state of perpetual negative motion - traveling and searching for her place in the world - a destination she never achieves. For me the movie’s happy ending, while a dramatic departure from Capote’s book, is a feel good victory for the good guy and a metaphor for life and our generation. The journey is all played out in Holly’s head for she remains, in reality, Lula Mae.

The movie and Capote’s novella upon which it is based has become the subject of such micro examination so as to define absurdity. Seems like more than a few folks in academia and book reviewers have used Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a springboard to their five minutes of fame and an advanced degree or two. In short, the movie is what it is and genre-inspired sociologists need only realize that Holly, Doc and Paul are the collective us as we try and find our ultimate selves… Like one writer stated, BAT, “reflects the cultural and critical trends of the two decades wherein they took place.” Capote just looked around and pessimistically wrote BAT in a lighter and more humorous style, a distinct departure from his patented Southern Gothic approach. I am certainly glad that the brilliant writer George Alexrod and iconic director Blake Edwards lightened up Capote’s still darker side. Lula Mae is like Cat, the loner who was looking for a home and ironically found one with like sign Holly. Now they have each other…

For this writer that shared look on the fire escape was the real beginning for Lula Mae Barnes. Welcome home Holly… and rest in peace, Audrey, George, Buddy and Truman.

Moon River is the Tulip Bend of the Red River and Lula Mae is that little girl from Tulip, Texas (though originally from "about a 100 mile east of Tulip") who for all of us is still looking for sanctuary, that Rainbow’s End, that still out of sight but never out of mind representation of those kinder and gentler times of our youth.


Ned Buxton

Sunday, February 14, 2010


As I was preparing my annual made-from-scratch chili with Mother’s prized #8 Wagner cast iron deep skillet (c. 1900 and smooth as a baby’s butt) for Friends this Super Bowl Sunday last (been doing it for over forty years), I was also pondering the fate of good Friends Dave Sherrard and Chuck Fatheree of Atlanta - stalwart co-hosts for twenty-plus years of the Best Damned Super Bowl Chili Party Outside of Texas held in Georgia, amazingly without killing someone or making anybody sick. It helps being food safety trained… Our biggest party was 138 Super bowl Revelers and, no, we rarely ever got to watch any of the games… Biggest batch of chili we ever made was somewhat in excess of 36 gallons - enough for a pint or more for each attendee (we loaded them up on liquid refreshments, salad and Texas Cornbread). Though I am not a worthy Chilihead some new data is available to the interested populous and I thought now the time to update the myriad books, articles and posts that have pontificated on the origins of chili. We are still climbing and negotiating that slippery slope we call Chili Mountain…

First of all how do you spell the name of the peppers that form the basis for our Bowl of Red? Some seemingly over the top folks will state emphatically that Chile (with an “e”) is the pepper and that Chili (with an “i”) is the stew. Well, it does make sense to make that distinction though I’ve seen the peppers spelled chilli, chillie, chili, and chile and even several different ways within the same botanical article. The name chili for the pepper derives from the ancient Aztec dialect of Nahuatl, which called the pepper chiltepin - so pick your nightshade.

Chile for me has always been that long narrow South American country with the flag (La Estrella Solitaria-The Lone Star) that’s suspiciously similar to the Texas flag though was conceived and adopted in 1817, twenty-one years before the Texas flag. Interestingly it is similar to the Confederate Stars and Bars. So, it’s not all about the “e” or the “i” of anything, rather just what’s comfortable for you. There are some great sites about the noble chili pepper and one of them is
Eat More Chiles. We heartily recommend. Note that they spell them with an “e”…

So now down to the Texas definition of chili (Texas’ official state dish since 1977). Chili is a stew-like meat soup more formally known as chili con carne (chili with meat) that references the signature ingredient, the chili peppers that form its base. That’s the definition of the dish. So, it’s like the Hammer, Stone of Strength, Caber and other Heavy Events of the Scottish Highland Games. We do it like our Scottish Ancestors did to celebrate, renew and revitalize our culture. As with Chili, we’re not trying to reinvent anything…

If you want beans in your chili it’s known as – viola – chili con frijoles. Now that wasn’t hard. The bottom line is that for most Native Texans chili with beans isn’t the original chili, rather another whole concoction like Cincinnati “chili”. These aberrations only evolved when beef/meat became scarce and beans were essentially used as a filler/expander and when Yankees decided to try their luck with our “Native Dish”. Texas and the Terlingua purists will argue that to their – and your grave.

Indeed, the Chili Appreciation Society, International (CASI), since 1951 is the governing body of most official chili cook-offs, and home to the philosophy that real chili--Texas Chili--doesn’t have beans. In fact, fillers like beans, pasta, rice, hominy, etc. aren’t allowed (note the etc.) in their competitions. These are the folks that hold their annual debauch aka the Terlingua International Chili Championship (TICC) at Rancho CASI de los Chisos in Terlingua, Texas in the Big Bend country of the Rio Grande. Indeed, CASI bylaws require that the headquarters of CASI always be in the State of Texas.

The rival International Chili Society (ICS) also promotes that noble bowl of red. Their history appears to be inextricably intertwined with that of the CASI apparently stemming from a 1970 CASI lapse that saw the formation of ICS and their administration of the 1970 World Championships with perennial favorite the legendary chili guru Wick Fowler capturing the gold.

After some disagreements and infighting chili and automotive guru Texan Carroll Shelby and his ICS split with CASI in 1975 (some say he was invited to leave) taking his chili pot and “World Championships” to the Tropico Goldmine outside of Rosamond, California and eventually on to Nevada and competition venues in Reno and Las Vegas, among others. Yikes, from that point you could gamble and eat chili at the same time! This writer does wonder why 2009 was featured as their “43rd World Championship” which would place their first competition in 1966 and not their advertized first championship as listed in their official history as 1970 though that’s a stretch. Whoops! Someone, please help me with this math… Like this writer said, the two organizations despite their differences appear to be ultimately muy simpatico and not the light years that separate CASI and the Tolbert nostalgic Behind the Store gang that sponsor the Original Terlingua International Frank X. Tolbert-Wick Fowler Championship Chili Cookoff. You can get just so many egos into one chili pot. So much for politics.

We should all just chill out and thank the Good Lord for the likes of George Haddaway, Jim Fuller, Vann York and Richard Knight, Ron Charlton, Joe Cooper and all the unsung aficionados, judges and cooks who for almost three generations made this story. And how about Mrs. F. G. Ventura of Dallas who on October 5, 1952 won the Chili Cook Off at the prestigious Texas State Fair in Dallas, Texas? In a world dominated by Men where women weren’t initially even allowed to compete at Terlingua, Ventura earned the title as the first ever "World Champion Chili Cook” and then in unprecedented fashion (move over Wick Fowler) successfully defended her title for fifteen years. Her recipe was declared the "Official State Fair of Texas Chili Recipe." She is one of the real heroes in this story. Back to our Bowl of Red…

Now, chile can be and is used as a sauce over tamales, enchiladas and other entrees so beans could be redundant or just in the way. We all know that evolution sometimes can take quirky side branches witness the Greek-inspired Cincinnati Five Way Chili (since 1922) that incorporates spaghetti, chili(?), shredded cheese, diced onions, and beans and generally served with oyster crackers (no cornbread or saltines). The basic ingredients also differ and incorporate cinnamon, cloves, mace, all spice, vinegar and chocolate which brings back memories of my experiments with mole (look it up). OK, this is not really chili as we know it, rather just a ground beef stew or more appropriately, sauce. Probably should have called it Macedonian Mud though we note that one Ivan "Ike" Johnson, from Texas, established the now famous Ike's Chili Parlor in downtown Oklahoma City and offered a similar version over Spaghetti from 1910 (do the math). So, let’s look at some origin theories.

The Spanish names chili and chili con carne might be a giveaway to the more modern origins of this meat stew. While some folks offer that chili is probably NOT from Mexico that may simply be a matter of timing and semantics. Bottom line: when you get right down to it modern chili originated in Texas and probably around San Antonio though the question begs who was in charge and whose flag was flying at the time.

Let’s set up the timeline. The military phase of the war for Texas independence formally began on October 2, 1835 and ended with the birth of the Republic of Texas on March 2, 1836 with the final nail being driven with the victory by Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. Much of that area we now know as Texas was a Mexican State, Tejas and then Coahuila y Tejas, from 1821 to 1836. From 1690 until 1821 this area was part of Spanish Texas, one of the interior provinces of New Spain. So my premise is if chili was a documented dish of Spanish Texas (1690-1821), Mexican Texas (1821-1836) or Texas from Republic to a state of the United States of America (1836 to present) then we assign the origin of chili accordingly. Yes, we are leaving a hell of a lot of history out of this but this is about chili not the nuances of international politics that formed the overall history of the region. The modern origins determined, we can then ponder if this basic of dishes might have been fomented in some ancient land and culture.

Well, we can state emphatically that origin could be nowhere else except the Americas as that is where the noble chile pepper, the most important signature ingredient in this stew, originated. So for all you serious or tongue in cheek historians, no, chili wasn’t invented in Egypt or anywhere else in Africa – well, sort of.

We concede that there are myriad theories and legends surrounding the origins of chile - many that date to Texas and the United States. One theory particularly resonates with me references the early 1700s, when colonists (fifteen families - a total of fifty-seven men, women and children) arrived from the Canary Islands (controlled by Spain since 1479) in order, “to populate the Province of Texas” and we suspect block France's westward expansion from Louisiana much like the Scots in Georgia blocked France’s eastward push.
The Canarians settled Villa de San Fernando/La Villita (The Little Village) just outside the Mission San Antonio de Bejar (The Alamo). Located on the east bank of the San Antonio River, La Villita was the site of an earlier Coahuiltecan Native American village and has now been restored as an arts & crafts complex and historic center. The people of San Antonio dedicated a plaque at La Villita in memory of this historic settlement thusly, "This city in the State of Texas was founded in 1731 by the islanders from the Canary Islands". Also in the municipality of San Antonio a sign lists the names and surnames of those original fifteen Canary island families – from which several of the old families of San Antonio trace their descent. Well done, San Antonio, but what’s that got to do with chili?

History records that the women of La Villita would make a tangia-like stew with meat, cumin, garlic, chile peppers, and wild onions at home in copper kettles. Robb Walsh, the award winning Texas food critic and author of several books including
The Tex-Mex Cookbook, relates to what was apparently, then, an unusual blend of spices commenting, “Their peculiar, chile and cumin-heavy spice blend resembled the Berber seasoning style of Morocco.” Tangia is a slow-cooked Moroccan meat stew that takes its name from the amphora-shaped earthenware vessel it’s cooked in. The Canary Islands are just off the coast of Morocco – and it would appear that the rest is history and globalization has long been upon us and yes, the Kingdom of Morocco is in - Africa. Sidebar: it was Morocco in 1777 that became the first country to publicly recognize the newly independent United States of America.

It is documented that the Canary Island women of La Villita would take their big copper kettles into the plaza, brew up their “chili” on open fires and then sell to passersby who would sit on the ground and eat their purchase. This documented history gives Spain, the Canary Islanders (and by extension Morocco) and La Villita legitimate claim as the birthplace and rightful home of chili.

Those La Villita Ladies and that tradition of serving inexpensive food in this festive market atmosphere was further solidified and evolved by the ever vibrant “Chili Queens” of San Antonio who gave that whole chilithang color and panache. By the 1880’s San Antonio was a wide-open town that was sort of civilized by day and depending on the demeanor of the folks that constituted the cattle and railroad industries and the ever present army, “wild and open” by night. Frank H. Bushick, former San Antonio Tax Commissioner described the open air market in great detail and reminisces in his 1934 book Glamorous Days about the Chili Queens and their origins at Military Plaza before they were moved to Market Square in 1887.

History and Legends of Chili author Linda Stradley writes in her article History of Chili, Chili Con Carne at

“Latino women nicknamed "Chili Queens" sold stew they called "chili" made with dried red chilies and beef from open-air stalls at the Military Plaza Mercado. In those days, the world "chili" referred strictly to the pepper. They served a variation of simple, chile-spiked dishes (tamales, tortillas, chili con carne, and enchiladas). A night was not considered complete without a visit to one of these "chili queens." In 1943 they were put out of business due to their inability to conform to sanitary standards enforced in the town's restaurants.”

Now that we have identified the more recent origins of chili we need relate to the recent scholarship of Linda Perry, anthropologist and archeobotanist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and archaeologist Kent Flannery of the University of Michigan who in a recent study revealed at least ten different types of chili peppers that, “were prepared and eaten by Zapotec Indians between A.D. 600 and 1521.” Well, on with our timeline. It gets worse/better.

Perry has continued her studies and along with her colleagues reported in the article Ancient Americans Liked It Hot: Mexican Cuisine Traced to 1,500 Years Ago which appeared in the online magazine Science Daily that chili peppers were cultivated and routinely used in Mesoamerica. That would appear somewhat anticlimactic considering the revelation of Perry and Ruth Dickau/Sonia Zarillo of the University of Calgary among others in their February 2007 Science Daily article which confirmed that chilis have been grown and traded in Meso, Central and South America for – are you ready? – over six thousand years. We can probably assume that they used the spice to ratchet up their veggies (corn, beans, and squash) and, yes, probably their meat… We should note for the record that in 1976 one Rudy Valdez, a full-blooded Ute Indian, won the ICS World Chili Championship, using what he claimed to be a two thousand-year-old recipe from the Pueblo cliff dwellers in Mesa Verde. Guess they could have picked it up along the way. Given that other major components including cumin (comino) and oregano emanate from the Middle East and Greece respectively this whole scenario is taking on a distinctly international flavor. Time and space, time and space.

All that’s okay and we can most likely look to the future for more interesting data. Native Texan and writer extraordinaire
Joe Nick Patoski finally concluded in his November, 1992 Texas Monthly article, Chili Relations, that New York humorist H. Allen Smith (1907-1976) author of the irreverent though sometimes accurate “Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do” article in Holiday magazine, had it right when he commented, “The chief ingredients of all chili are fiery envy, scalding jealousy, scorching contempt, and sizzling scorn.” Patoski continued, “In other words, if it wasn’t worth fussing over, it wouldn’t be chili. And that, podnuh, just wouldn’t be any fun at all.”

No doubt, chili is one of the most popular, yea contentious, foods ever concocted and one that has fomented controversial debate and probably broke up a relationship or two, witness Frank Tolbert and Carroll Shelby. If you want to get a good, accurate look at the early days of chilimania in Texas just go to for Ranger Bob Ritchey’s, Nobody Knows More About The Original Chili Cook-Offs Than I Do. Nobody probably does…

The bottom line is that we apparently have the Ladies to thank for our noble Bowl of Red and especially the La Villita Ladies from San Antonio via the Canary Islands, the iconic Chili Queens even to the female participants of the CASI sanctioned event Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned Chili Cook Off in Luckenbach, Texas which has since morphed into the Ladies Texas State Chili Championship in Blanco. Seems that the ladies miffed at the Men and inspired by the iconic perennial Texas State Fair Chili Champion Mrs. F. G. Ventura, formed their own CASI sanctioned event when the sexist and separatist Republic of Texas Chilympiad in San Marcos barred women from their competition. I note their demise in 2003. Make sure that you like this writer on behalf of all Men and directed to all Women, thank your Lady this St. Valentines’ Day for their nurturing personas. They have made our lives and chili so much more palatable…

Now for the record – a confession. I always use a premium cubed stew meat, andouille sausage and based on availability, either bison or venison (cubed or chili ground). I did have pintos and red kidney beans available on the border (side) and was the only one that ate them. I don’t use celery nor tarantula venom. As great cooks will attest, (with everything else being equal) a great award winning chili is not only specific to ingredients but also to timing and assembly of the recipe.

Finally, I will also readily and publicly admit to a great love and admiration of the classic Frito Pie and still yearn for the good old days at the Pitt Stop in Lufkin, Texas. Or, how about a double chili cheese steak, glorified at The Varsity in Atlanta.
Doesn’t get any better…

So, just continue to stir the pot y’all and, hey, don’t talk with your mouth full…..


Ned Buxton

Saturday, February 6, 2010


As I was wistfully munching the last of my King Cake last night it reminded me how much I love Christmas and the festivities of the season. With the King Cake gone, the season is also almost over for me. Gosh, if I had my druthers I’d celebrate Christmas 365 days a year, and then some.

When I lived in Atlanta and environs I had a cadre of close Friends, most of them associated with the American Scottish Community. Indeed, two of those close Friends were, and remain, Doug and Leah Fraser (kingpins of the Atlanta Scottish Mafia). By extension those Friends included the whole of the Fraser Clan and ultimately the Gentlemen and Miladies of the 78th Fraser Highlanders, Fort New Inverness Garrison. Leah was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. While Doug was the only one of his siblings who was born in the United States (Florida), he soon was back on track in Bracebridge in northern Ontario, Canada, where his Father was a lumberjack and gold prospector of Jack London proportions. Doug grew up (sort of) and his career took him back to the United States where he and Leah ultimately set up a Home and still occupy their Decatur digs. Leah and Doug maintain a strong sense of Family and Clan and cherish their roots. I am honored to be their Friend.

One of the highlights of the Atlanta Christmas season was the now legendary Twelfth Night Party hosted for twenty years by Doug and Leah with the always able assistance of son Cameron (one of my grandsons is also named Cameron). The party would be held on January 5 or the following Saturday evening. Ah contentment with a host of good old and new Friends, liquid refreshments and victuals in sufficiency. There was always incredible music including the ultra talented barrister Henry Franz on his Uilleann pipes and the obligatory, toothsome King Cake always brought by one of the revelers. For most in attendance it was the end of the Christmas season and yet one more excuse to celebrate Friends and Family. Doug and Leah hosted that party for those twenty years to the start of the new millennium, a good beginning with an old tradition.

Without getting into the historical or liturgical end of things too much the Might of Right wanted to define what has always been for this writer a very special celebration which in earlier times also highlighted notions of order and chaos. Twelfth night is literally the twelfth night from Christmas and has been so celebrated since the Middle Ages even if you don’t acknowledge the Roman celebration of Saturnalia which conveniently morphed into Christmastide. We Americans like everything else we touch have put our special spin on this celebration and we’ll reference some of that later.

Some folks are understandably confused about the actual date for Twelfth Night - is it on the 5th or 6th of January? To the Ancients who started this whole thing, the end of day was understandably when the sun went down. The oncoming night was considered the beginning of the next day. Therefore, nights were actually inclusive with the holiday and part of that next day. So for us Moderns the Twelve Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and continue to Twelfth Night (from Christmas) ie the evening of January 5 to midnight. I guess for some descendents and followers of those Ancients it will still be January 6 though their tradition and that now flawed math would still lead them to thirteen not twelve. Whew, please don’t call me….

Twelfth Night back in 18th century America was, frankly, more important than the Papist Christmas and remains one of the most significant days in the Christian calendar as it marks the ramp up to the Feast of the Epiphany, the celebration, among other things, of the revelation of God become Man and the commemoration of the wise men’s visit to Bethlehem.

So what about those so called wise men now commonly accepted as the three kings? Well, they were only identified and described in the Gospel of Matthew though we ran with it from there. As many Biblical scholars and theologians have pointed out ad nauseum, Matthew didn’t say how many there were but was assumed much later that it was (had to be) three because of the number of the gifts they brought (three). On top of that Matthew never said they were kings (they weren’t) as the term used was Magi a reference to Zoroastrism priests (probably Persian or Babylonian) who practiced astrology - then a highly regarded science. Let’s also remember that they were Pagans – Christianity didn’t yet exist, a fact that escapes many. The term kings wasn’t used until much later Christian writings and that (among many other traditions existant) was challenged by the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
I guess we know who won that one…

This story has become embellished and tweaked over and over throughout the last two millennia in art and prose and has morphed into what is now a major component of Christian myth and a real metaphor for the acceptance across many cultures of Jesus and Christianity. We see them on Christmas greeting cards, in Christmas carols and if your neighborhood is like mine - in many front yard Christmas light displays.

The Magi represented all people of Faith who were willing to travel from some faraway place (not the orient) to acknowledge the fulfillment of a great prophecy (Isaiah) where the Messiah is, “worshipped by kings”. So does it matter who they were or frankly even if they ever existed? The answer to that question and a winter or summer birth of Jesus is, an unequivocal, emphatic probably not. It’s the great news that we celebrate every December 25th, everything else is icing on the King Cake.

So what’s the big deal? Well, I’m not trying to question one of the holiest of Christian traditions and holidays, rather ponder some contemporary thought on this issue. In our era of ever outward spiraling political correctness (PC) we see and hear that some Christian denominations are now contemplating changing the gender of the “Three Wise Men.” Who knows we may now even see the One Wise Man, One Wise Woman and one Transgender Wise Person? We continue to reinvent and morph the story to meet some artificial purpose and in doing so remove ourselves even further from the true meaning of Christmas. The reason for imposing limits to this story and revisionist PC thinking appear obvious to this writer. Think I’ll write a letter…
Don’t ask, don’t tell?

As we alluded earlier, other great traditions have evolved from the Twelfth Night celebrations including that fervent, carefree folly that we call Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Southern United States, that sensory overindulgence known as Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro and, of course, Mumming. These are excursions in “escapist fantasy” which prepares us for the rest of the year, Lent and the somber Easter season.

So what about Mardi Gras 2010? Well, this celebration begins with Twelfth Night on January 5/6 (choose your poison) and ends on Fat Tuesday on February 16, the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent – a virtual turnabout from revelry to solemnity.

It’s a little different this year as February 7th, slap dab in the middle of Mardi Gras is also Super Bowl Sunday in New Orleans, excuse for the biggest party that The Crescent Cty has seen or will ever see. The Mardi Gras Parade Krewes have already changed their parade schedules literally putting Mardi Gras celebrations on hold for a few hours so folks can watch the New Orleans Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. It appears to me they are just moving the party to the Superdome. If and when the Saints win you will see one party extraordinaire. I’ll bet the police of The Big Easy go topless that night.
Empty the jails!

The soul of the “Who Dat” will recover from their Katrina induced slumber to once again take its place among the great cities of the world. You’ll see the purple, green and gold colors of Mardi Gras everywhere. Tidbit: The purple and gold of Mardi Gras were influential yea critical in the selection of the Louisiana State University (LSU) school colors.

A little closer to home I paid homage to Mother Betty Buxton as I took down the tree this year. To my Mother Christmas was not only the most sacred holiday of the year, it was the supreme festive time to celebrate and share with Family and Friends. There is a tradition that dictates if your Christmas Tree isn’t removed by Twelfth Night it should stay up all year. Mother’s Christmas tree with its white lights and clear mostly crystal and glass ornaments (some from Mt St. Helens’ obsidian) were striking and always the centerpiece of her holiday home. Mother absolutely loved and embraced that opportunity and during some of her last years in Providence, RI and later in Atlanta she kept her tree up until July which became the focal point and occasion of a great Christmas in July party over at Betty’s when we finally took down the tree only to resurrect it the next December.
Loved those parties which became famous in Atlanta.

So, look for the bean or baby in your King Cake and root for The Saints. Embrace tradition and Laissez les bon temps roulez!


Ned Buxton