Category Archives: Chili

Fish fry, St. Patty’s Parade, and Chili

It’s the season of “spent” once again, which naturally means indulging in a variety of lenten foods together with our friends.


First item on the agenda is a fish fry at our traditional fish fry of choice, St. John Vianney in Millard. Our mutual friends Jenny and Kody, Jon, Phil and Jen, and their parents (who’d never been to a fish fry before) all joined us in the long, long line before getting our fill of fried fish, mac and cheese, french fries, and all the other greasy beige goodies available. My old co-worker Cliff dishes the fish, and Guitar Guy (whose name turns out to be Win) had us all “bah bah baaing” along to Sweet Caroline as we ate. We got a few raffle tickets as well, but nobody won anything. We did also see our friends the Mills — we’ll likely do a fish fry with them at a different venue in a couple weeks.


On Saturday morning, we enjoyed some slight-above-freezing temperatures in downtown Omaha to see the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which was put on by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Omaha. We got to see some Convertibles, monster trucks, and lots of people dressed in green. There was even a legion of Stormtroopers wearing kilts for whatever reason. And of course, there was plenty of candy, and we got a bigger share than usual being at the very tail end of the parade. We wound up missing the first half of the parade, but it was still nice to be able to see our first parade of the year in relatively nice weather (and stumbling upon an already-paid-for parking spot).


Then that evening our friend Jessica was hosting her Second Annual Chili Cookoff at her apartment. Kate brought her girls, who played happily with Hannah most of the night as the rest of us samples each other’s chili. We saw a number of familiar faces form the night before, including Phil and Jen, who brought along some Mapo Tofu. There was also a rare appearance by Richard Burney, who brought along an Irish chocolate cream pie and a copy of RiffTrax, which kept us terribly amused toward the end of the evening.

Big winners of the night (if Chili gift cards, no less), was Phil for the mist unique chili, Kate for the spiciest, and Vivian for the best overall! We finished off the night with some delightfully weird RiffTrax shorts, courtesy of Richard, which included kids making horrifying monstrosities out of grass. of all things.

Chili, Sledding, and Mardi Gras

So there we were, innocently enjoying spring-like weather for about a week, when BAM — snow again. And what better way to enjoy the change in weather than with a chili party?


On Friday, our fellow Order of the Shovel member Jessica decided — after a four-year hiatus — the Chili Cookoff needed to happen again. A few fellow Shovelers (and some strangers from Jessica’s Bible Study) showed up to sample around seven different kinds of chili to vote on the best, the spiciest, and the most unique of the bunch. Kate brought her girls along, who kept Hannah busy as the rest of us loaded up on chili (and cinnamon rolls) as we shoveled throughout the night. My Asian chili didn’t win any awards, but I liked it enough to make it again. Here’s the recipe if you want to try it.


The next day, we took advantage of the momentary snow by taking Hannah and Aaron kids down to Sand Park for some sledding. Aaron was old enough now to participate fully with Hannah as the two rode down the hill, flung snowballs, and made snow angels. Even mommy got in on the fun. We dropped by grandma and grandpa’s house afterward for hot cocoa, which was a particularly nice way to warm up before calling it a day.


Then came Fat Tuesday. We hadn’t had a proper Mardi Gras celebration in over six years, so Vivian and I invited Phil and Jen and Jenny and Kody over for jambalaya and King Cake together, complete with a plastic baby. There were also beads thrown about, but nothing more than couldn’t be shown on television. Now begins the season of Lent, which means fish fries and giving up random vices, like fast food and using Facebook around the house. Good times, and I’m not even Catholic.

Sledding at Sand Park

Chili and charades

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Christmastime is almost here, and that means gathering with friends for warm, cozy food and fun together. Eric and Ben had their fifth annual Chili Throwdown in the Nothnagel basement, and it seems to have been gathering a serious crowd of contenders over the years, with a vast amount of chili, non-chilis, and desserts to taste-test. The winners this year were Joe Ortiz for his “big sausage,” Sarah Adair for her cheesecake, and then Adri, Julia, and C.J. for their chili (third, second, and first place, respectively). Of course, there was also quite a bit of dancing afterward to burn off some of what we’d all been taste-testing, and Hannah shared her adorableness until bedtime.

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On the following Saturday, Jenny and Libby had their annual Christmas party at their apartment. We had hors d’eourves and an unhealthy amount of Christmas goodies together (and salad from Eric. The heck?) After getting all sugared up, we participated in some lively Christmas-themed charades together and a white elephant gift exchange. Hannah was on hand as well, dressed up as a Santa Baby and having way too much fun with a pair of nunchunks.

Christmas is almost here! I hope we’re ready.

Back to normal

Well, Vivian and I are parents now, and we’re slowly adjusting as life gets back to “normal,” whatever that is now. Hannah seems to be a pretty good sleeper, able to zonk out for a couple hours when we drop into a chili party. We’ve both gotten pretty good at changing diapers, making bottles, and figuring whether our baby wants food, changing, or cuddles. It’s been a joy, but now that Vivian’s recovering, we’re slowly returning to the real world outside our home in Bellevue.

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On Friday night, I took a much-needed trip up to JNO for some swing dancing. (Vivian was still not up for it, but hopefully will be in a couple weeks, just in time for the Christmas party.) We have live music courtesy of The UNO Big Band, and I had the chance to play with my new camera some more and capture several snapshots that I never could with my smaller point-and-shoot.

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On Sunday night, we brought Hannah out for her first public appearance at Eric and Ben’s annual Chili Throwdown event. Vivian and I have attended this culinary competition for the past three years now, so we knew we couldn’t miss it. She slept like a pro throughout the entire event, but it was fun to introduce her to everyone who happened to stop by her little car seat/carrier

I created my own last-minute entry — a concoction I dubbed “bacon cheeseburger” chili. Naturally, it contained everything a good cheeseburger would have — cheese, ground beef, onion, mustard, relish, tomatoes, and one special ingredient for one special person: KETCHUP! I tailored this chili for the “most unique” category, which I’m sure it could have won if it hadn’t been eliminated. Eric said it sparked a lot of “discussion as to whether it was actually chili or not. I mean it contained all the usual ingredients, save for one: chili powder. It didn’t win any awards either way, but it was fun to make (and eat).

This year’s winners were Bri for best non-chili entry (potato soup), Adri for third place, Julia for second, and C.J. for both spiciest chili and first place. Congrats, guys!

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Oh, did anybody notice that it’s December already? That means Vivian and I had to run out and grab a Christmas tree. We’re in the process of decorating now. We also had to get our Christmas letters taken care of, and that meant getting a new family picture with Hannah! Tamra was kind enough to take some picture of us when she was over for a baby-holding session on Sunday.

Chili, barbecue, and the start of the season

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In case I hadn’t mentioned it earlier, Vivian and I have recently started attending Twin Valley Church here in Bellevue, the very church where we got married two and a half years ago. That’s right, we’ve abandoned our local mega-church in favor of a small church where people actually recognize us when we walk inside. It’s a very welcome change. We had dinner with our pastor and his family recently, Vivian’s singing with the choir, and I’m being recruited do such things as work the audio board and A/V system when other people are out of town. It certainly feels nice to be involved someplace again.

On Tuesday night, we went to dinner at Amarillo with Mark and Lisa from church. Amarillo is a barbecue restaurant on Fort Crook road where I took Jack and Donna for their blessing before I proposed to Vivian in 2008. It’s been open for a couple decades now and had such noteworthy guests as Sean Penn, Garth Brooks, and several others. Its last night open was Nov. 30, so we got to enjoy some ribs, feather bones, and “dirt cake” for one last time.

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On Friday night, I attended the Friendship Program Christmas Party at Venice Inn, imbibing in a few drinks with co-workers before gorging on steak and toasted ravioli.

On Saturday, we finally got our Christmas tree. We found a lovely little Fraser Fir at a nearby lot and hauled it home (slipping and sliding all the way) on top of my Taurus. It fit just perfectly in the living room, and Vivian and I spent the next couple of days decorating it with lights and ornaments. Our whole living room is now basking in the soft, warm glow of the holiday season every night.

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On Sunday evening, it was time for Eric and Ben’s annual Chili “Throwdown,” held once again in the Nothnagel basement. This thing seems to get bigger every year, with 42 guests and about 15 or 16 competitors joining in this year. Vivian made up her Best Chili You Will Ever Taste once again, and I put together my own special concoction: pizza chili. It included typical chili ingredients such as ground beef, onions, and stewed tomatoes, but I also added green peppers, black olives, mushrooms, garlic, pizza seasoning, pepperoni, Jimmy Dean’s hot sausage, and pizza sauce. I think it came out quite well and it won a prize for “most unique” chili of the evening.

Vivian and I were predictably stuffed by the end of the night, quite possibly because we did more sitting around and watching the Simpsons pretend to be Muppets instead of dancing off what we’d just eaten. Maybe next year.

UNO Swing Band and a Chili Throwndown

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We had a record crowd at JNO last weekend — there were 106 people in attendance for the lesson and many more who stayed throughout the night for the dance. We had a live band from UNO playing for us, which probably helped draw in much of the crowd (including some family and friends of the band members), but these kids definitely knew how to swing (in a musical sense, of course). We even had an partner swing dance competition. Dan Wondra and Margaret Clancy took first place, which prompted many of the veteran Jitterbugs to respond, “about effing time!”

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On Saturday, we got to join the rest of Nebraska in watching the Huskers lose to Texas by one just point with one second on the clock. The star attraction of the night, however, was the chili. Eric and Ben hosted a Chili Cookoff with our new neighbors Troy and Merinda down in Bellevue. Vivian and I prepared a dish presumptuously called the “best chili you will ever taste,” which I believe held its own even if it didn’t place. By some amazing coincidence, the ones who took first and second third place in the contest just happened to be the judges, Eric and Venche. Purely coincidental, I’m sure.

Turkey, Hot Dogs, and Chili

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I hope everyone enjoyed sharing in the great American tradition of gorging on turkey and battering crowds of demented shoppers at five in the morning this year. Vivian and I got to enjoy having Thanksgiving in Cedar Rapids, the first time as husband and wife. We hit the road bright and early at 4:30 AM, arriving in mid-morning with plenty of time to play games with cousins and their kids. We had a big turkey dinner and then settled in to watch home movies and play games. There was a rousing game of Wii volleyball, and then Shannon got to kick my butt while playing chess. We also had a fun game of Balderdash that evening, with Vivian defining dungarunga as an Australian Pooper Scooper, and me spelling out SBA as the Sagging Bottoms Association.

IMG_8837The next morning, Uncle Ben took us out for Coffee at a local coffee shop called Brewed Awakenings, which has to be the absolute coolest name ever. We also dropped by to visit my Grandma Gibbs at the nursing home. Her Alzheimer’s is unfortunately progressing to the point where she’s having trouble eating, but it was good to visit her and see her somewhat responsive. When they started serving lunch, Vivian stayed by her side with my Uncle Jim for well over an hour coaxing her into eating something. I’m reminded day after day what a wonderful woman I married.

IMG_8850After saying goodbye, we headed downtown to have some lunch. On the way, we toured some of the flood damage from the Great Flood of 2008 There were plenty of depressed-looking homes tagged “unsafe” with spray paint and condemnation notices. I’d seen the photos like everybody else, but when you drive through dozens of city blocks that were all underwater and now remain uninhabitable, the reality really hits you hard.

Fortunately, one of the businesses that went underwater and survives just fine was the Flying Wienie: a hot dog restaurant our family fondly remembers passing by every time we went to church at Valley View (where my parents were married, by the way). We got to enjoy some supposedly authentic Chicago-style hot dogs, though I’ll need some authority like Onion-Boy to give us the official verdict on this.

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And speaking of Onion-Boy, Vivian and I returned Saturday to enjoy a Chili Throwdown over at his apartment. We had a number of admirable contestants creating some mouth-watering (and searing) concoctions. I liked Mark’s spicy little pot of steak chili the best, though I was impressed how Ben’s experimental beet chili made those dirty little vegetables nearly palatable. After stuffing ourselves, we played a bunch of games together. They included Werewolf, a 2.0 version of Mafia that included expanded roles for the bunch of us who didn’t get to participate in killing other guests while they slept. We also played a long, long game of What’s Yours Like, which offered up many “TMI” moments as we tried giving each other the worst clues ever for one word or another. It was a good time, though while we enjoyed ourselves with chili, some freezing rain outside made it a little difficult for some other people to get home. I-80 and 75 were apparently shut down due to accidents.

On Sunday, I had Thanksgiving with my new in-laws, Jack and Donna. We had more turkey, watched some home videos courtesy of Vivian’s Aunt Alice, and played a couple rounds of Mappy, a classic video game from 1983 that Donna is apparently hooked on. It came as part of a five-in-one standalone video game console that you hook up to your TV. I bought it for Jack as a Christmas present last year, and I’m happy to see it getting such good use now that we actually figured out how to hook it up to the TV.

The Chili Throwdown