Sunday, February 6, 2011


Photo from the National Weather Service

What an incredible storm.

I have experienced several major snowstorms in my life.  The first was the unexpected and city-paralyzing Blizzard of 1967.  In my lifetime, it will probably be the standard by which all blizzards are measured.  My memories are fond ones filled with snowfights, snow forts, days off of school, and jumping from garage roofs into deep snow piles.  I was 12 years old. 

The Blizzard of 1979 was not as much fun. I had grown up (or so I thought), become a nurse and lived for three days down at the University of Chicago Hospital, taking the place of people who couldn't make it in.  An aide and I had seventeen patients... we made rounds, told everyone we would be back when we completed seeing other patients, and repeated that mantra several times before relief came in.  Miraculously, I think everything got done.  Well, at least no patients died.  The city's response was not up to the people's standard and a non-Machine-approved outsider won the Democratic Primary.

For those who wonder... the South Side was not plowed as well as the North Side.  I saw it with my own eyes.

The Blizzard of 1999 saw me working overnight after I had finished a PM shift since none of the night crew was able to make it.  An aide and I had the whole floor but, hey, I had already done that before.  Besides, these were stable rehab patients, not critically ill neurosurgery post-ops.  Brian and I slept in patient rooms during the next day and then worked the evening shift because the city was still not dug out.  It was a good thing none of the female patients minded male nurses or aides!  Not much choice on those two shifts.

The Blizzard of 2011 was well predicted.  The storm played out like most of the meteorological models said it would... almost to the hour and with accurate predictions of snow totals and wind velocities.  I think the television meteorologists got way too much enjoyment from their accuracy.  This blizzard, I found myself managing a rehab unit and felt an amazing amount of respect and appreciation for the nurses who did what I had done in 1979 and 1999.  Kathy was scheduled off and went in to cover day shift since we live close to Rush.  Nurses (and PTs, OTs, MDs, Speech Therapists... the list goes on) for the most part really care about their patients and find some way of making sure that their needs are met.  I actually got a chance to deliver linen to the floors and do some patient care for a change!  The hospital gave us free food, shut down all outpatient operations, let non-clinical staff go home early, and ran extra shuttles to the train stations.  We lost power in one building, but it was one primarily dedicated to outpatient services.  It was amazing how smooth things went, althought the patients' food looked like it came off of Costco's bulk food shelves.  Five people made it in to handle the food service operation that normally takes fifty people to run.

One of the strange quirks in Chicago is the blizzard related custom of using junked household items to put "dibs" on parking spaces that individuals have dug out on the side streets.  There is an impicit threat of violence and many instances of vandalism against cars that do not heed the "reserved" spot markers.  Supposedly, one non-compliant car had its back window broken and its interior completely filled with water which, given that it's winter, froze solid.  When I was in college, a student had his car completely iced over since he had parked in a "saved" spot in the community bordering the University.  While the city does not officially condone saving spots, it explicity states that it will not remove said barriers until about two weeks after the snow event.  By that time, large plows come through the side streets and sweep away all the curbside snow mounds and the detritus so carefully laid out by car owners.  Jon Kass, a Tribune columnist, even debated the question of:  "Should a man dig out his spot and subsequently die of a heart attack from having done so, does his widow have dibs on the spot?"  For your enjoyment, I have collected pictures of some of these markers.

And my personal favorite...

"The Pilsen Maize"

I have dozens of other pictures and look forward to creating a montage and framing it... think "Doors of Dublin".

So... what recipe will I share?  I think that Chili con Carne is a great winter time meal... it warms and fills you up "so good."

Chili con Carne
2 pounds of ground beef (I usually grind my own from chuck and use the coarse grind on my Kitchen Aid.)
1 large Onion, chopped
1 Green Pepper, chopped
3 cloves Garlic, passed through a garlic press
1/3 cup Mc Cormick's Chili Powder
1 tablespoon Ground Cumin
2 teaspoons Mexican Oregano (Regular Oregano is OK)
1/2 teaspoon Ground Chipotle
2 Bay Leaves
1 to 2 ounces Dark Unsweetened Baker's Chocolate, chopped
Two 28 ounce cans of Italian Tomatoes, coarsely chopped or squished through your hands
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
3 15 1/2 ounce cans beans of your choice, rinsed in a colander and drained.  (I use 1 black bean, 1 dark Kidney, and 1 light Kidney, but anything works)
Salt and Pepper to taste

1.  Brown ground beef on high heat in 5 or 6 quart pot until all moisture is gone.
2.  Add vegetables and lower heat to medium until vegetables are translucent.
3.  Add all the spices (not the chocolate and bay leaf) and let cook for two or three minutes before adding tomatoes.  I don't know why, but doing this makes the chili taste better to me.
4.  Add tomatoes and tomato paste, stirring to mix with meat.  Add bay leaves.
5.  Simmer on low heat for anywhere from 1/2 hour to two hours... (can you tell I'm loosey-goosey on this recipe?)  Don't let it get too dry.
6.  Add drained beans and cook for 1/2 hour more.
7.  Add chopped chocolate and incorporate.  Do not cook anymore after the chocolate is added.
8.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

I usually serve it with shredded cheddar cheese, chopped onions, and oyster crackers

This is a very forgiving recipe.  The only things that are critical is achieving a deep browning of the beef (for flavor) and adding the chocolate right at the end and not cooking it any more after it is added.

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