We were new to Atenas a couple of years ago, when I sat down with Mary and Bill Cook to discuss a car purchase. My hubby, Don, was out of town on a business trip, and had asked me to deliver the cash and get the process started. In the course of the conversation, something came up about a Chili Cook-Off. Their enthusiasm was contagious as they explained it was a fundraiser for Hogar de Vida, a home for abandoned and abused children.
I heard myself signing us up for a team, which we named “Roca Caliente”, partly because we live in Roca Verde, and partly because we like our chili hot and spicy. At least that’s how I like to eat it. I hadn’t actually made chili since a ski trip in 1976 but I figured Don had, since his paella is so fabulous. (What does paella have to do with chili?)
That evening Don SKYPED me to ask how it went with the car. “Great! Do you know how to make chili?”
“What does chili have to do with the car?”
“I signed us up for the cook-off.”
“Wait a minute. You went to buy a car, and now we’re cooking chili?”
“Yup. You know how, right?”
“Not really. You?”
“Nope.” So, I grabbed my laptop, Googled “Best Chili” and came up with a recipe guaranteed to win! I studied the ingredient list, and most were readily available, well, er … except for chili powder! No worries, it was only July, and I had a Thanksgiving trip planned for North Carolina. There was lots of time to order some cool chili paraphernalia with which to decorate our booth. In case the chili was no good, we could dazzle them with decorations!
I ordered a banner with the team name, chili-pepper necklaces, cheesy chili-pepper lights, engraved napkins with “Roca Caliente” embossed in gold lettering, red aprons embroidered with “Hot Stuff”, and of course, maracas. When I arrived at my daughter’s for Thanksgiving, she said: “Mom, I hope you brought an empty suitcase. There is a whole mess of stuff in the closet with your name on it. What is all that stuff?”
“Ooooohhh, the Chili Cook-Off decorations. Yes! It’s gonna be fun!”
As we went through the boxes, I kept looking for the maracas. Finally, we were down to one small cardboard box. Rats! They forgot the maracas. As I opened the last box wondering what was in it since it was only about 8 inches long and maybe 6 inches wide, my jaw dropped when I cleared away the packing paper. Inside were the teeniest maracas I have ever seen. They were maybe 2 inches long, and the box was filled with them. We laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe. We each grabbed some and started shaking them, dancing around the house.
I didn’t give the maracas another thought until Cook-Off day. As we were setting up our booth at Quinta Roma Vista, the beautiful venue where all the fun happens, I looked across the aisle where another team “Kick-Ass Chili” was setting up. We had the salsa music blasting, the burners fired up, and we were getting reading for the throngs to come. A beautiful lady from that booth started shaking her maracas to the music. She beamed a smile at me: “My maracas are bigger than your maracas!” And so they were. Their chili was pretty good, too.
I told my team to keep shaking those little (and I do mean little) babies. I shouted: “Hold your heads high and shake with all you got. Size isn’t everything. They looked much larger in the pictures online. Marketing bastards!
We played off one another all day, had a blast, served gallons of chili to over 1,500 people supporting this worthy cause, and not being one to ignore a challenge, I vowed to get bigger maracas. I hope the Kick-Ass people are there again. Bring on the fun!
Here is a video from last year’s event: Volunteers are still needed. If you would like to help, please contact me, and I will put you in touch with the volunteer coordinator. Atenas Chili Cook-Off, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, Quinta Romavista, Barrio Mercedes, Atenas, Costa Rica. Time: 11:00 am – 4:00 pm.