whitechili20001
You can actually see the calories, can't you?

I fell off both the vegetarian and the weight-loss wagon last night. And it wasn’t even worth it.

We’ve had something like 33 straight days without a drop of rain, a record-setting year for days 90 degrees and above, and a September hotter than July. So when the heavens opened up and the rain fell all day Sunday and Monday, we were all grateful. But the gray skies and cooler temps put my family in a mood. As I was creating the week’s menu and filling out the grocery, first my husband then my daughter asked the same question: Isn’t it cool enough for white chicken chili?

 Like most of you I’m sure, there are certain dishes I only make in fall and winter.  When I think of comfort foods, I think of chilly days and a house filled with the aroma of brown and red spices – chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne. I agreed to make the chili, trying to remember the last time I used cream in a recipe.

I got the recipe from a friend last year, who made it for our book club. It was fabulous. I’d tried making white chili before, but it never tasted that great. I tried my friend’s recipe and my family’s been talking about it ever since. I made the dish several times last winter, as well as a killer turkey and wild rice soup (the secret is in the white wine). So yesterday, when everyone was out, I started making the chili for dinner.

First, I baked all the chicken. It was plain, no spices. I nibbled a little as I chopped it up, then nibbled quite a bit more. It was the first meat of any kind I’d had in nearly two months. Then, I chopped up some onions and sautéed them in olive oil. Outside, the rain was pouring down, beating against windows that looked out onto gray dreariness. Me, I love rainy days, so I was feeling pretty darned good as I stirred the onions and lined up the next ingredients.

Out with the onions, in with two sticks of butter – I’d decided to double the recipe, per usual. (It was at that time, I think, that I finally admitted to myself that I would be having some chili for dinner, too.) I whisked in the flour, followed by broth, half and half, Tabasco and all the dry spices – chili powder, cumin, salt and white pepper.

Talk about aroma.

Once the mixture thickened, in went the chicken, cannellini (white beans) and green chilies. Finally the shredded Monterey jack cheese. It certainly looked as good as always. I decided to have a taste.

Hmmm. Needed more cumin. Another taste; salt, then more Tabasco. For some reason, it didn’t taste quite as good as before – or so I thought. The family raved as each one killed off one bowl, then another. Me, I was happy with one, normal-sized bowl. To me, it tasted just “OK,” and I was convinced they were just being nice because of all the work that went into it.

No, each assured me. It was great, as always.

I was left wondering if my meat-free lifestyle had altered my tastebuds, but it didn’t seem to make sense. I mean, I still drool like Homer Simpson at steakhouse commercials. Maybe guilt? I don’t think so, because I knew I would have a tough workout this morning (and I did).

Today it’s all sunny and bright, but humidity is low and it’s only 82 degrees – the hottest it’s supposed to get this week. It’s interesting that most of the meals I prepare in the winter are kinda heavy. I’m sure there’s a lot of biology/anthropology and whatever other –ology that can explain why that is, but this is the 21st century, complete with central heating. Still, I think my fam would bean me with croissants if I whipped up some tuna salad in January.

So was cheating worth it? No, not this time. Now the shrimp burgers planned for Friday might pose a problem . . .

Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street. ~  Zig Ziglar

Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.