By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
It’s college football season and I’m completely pumped. Many of my newer friends don’t know this about me: I’m a rabid Michigan Wolverines fan, have been my whole life and try never to miss a game on TV. October used to be our travel month before Covid hit, smack dab in the middle of football time. Bob and I would watch from wherever we were: a Michigan sports bar on Union Street in San Francisco, a golf resort in Tennessee, and even from an apartment in Antibes, France. I’m hardcore.
The fandom comes by way of my family naturally as with many families and their legacies. My dad and his three brothers are the only four brothers in the history of the University of Michigan who all earned varsity letters in sports. Needless to say, most of their offspring attended Michigan to follow in their footsteps. Only two male descendants played sports: my cousin Steve was a basketball guard in the late ‘60s and my son, Ben, was a walk-on sprinter on the track team in 2000. My dad was given four seats in the Varsity Club section of the Big House (the U- M. football stadium), on the 45-yard line. I inherited those seats and attended many games during my college days in the early 70s and then when Ben was a student. I even bought a house in Ann Arbor near the stadium for my kids to live in while attending school, close enough to offer paid parking for fans on game day.
Tailgating has been a uniquely American social event for more than a century. According to American Heritage magazine, the first tailgate was for the Rutgers-Princeton football game in 1869. The advent of the automobile and particularly the station wagon in post-WWII created today’s style of tailgating. Back in the old days, people would pull up their pickup trucks to the edge of the football field, flip down the back, put out a hearty array of food and drink, and sit on the tailgate to eat and visit.
Things really busted open in the ‘80s and ‘90s with the rise of portable grills, coolers on wheels, collapsible banquet tables, pop-up tents, and generators. These events now take place in the area surrounding the stadiums and have taken on a life of their own. One of the most fun parts about pregame is walking through the parking lots of stadiums across the country. Have any of you done this lately? Boy, some people go all out with the grilling, serving, and drink selections. Not only are there hot dogs and hamburgers, there are BBQ ribs, grilled shrimp, grilled chicken breasts, a huge variety of side salads, chips, dips, cookies, and cupcakes. Certainly the allure of the party is a major aspect of games these days.
I’ve tried to carry the tailgate experience throughout my life, most often at home, not at a game. When my dad was wheelchair-bound in his declining years, I would create a tailgate experience for him at the independent living facility where he resided. Every Saturday, I would pick up his favorite foods and put out a spread for the game. A few times, Elmer, his lifetime college friend and baseball teammate, (my dad was the pitcher and Elmer was his catcher) would visit from Connecticut. My sisters, my cousin, Steve, and I would decorate the dining hall with Michigan paraphernalia, then bring their favorite sandwiches from the deli nearby. Seeing these two deeply connected friends reminiscence and feeling that sense of nostalgia and belonging even for just a few hours during the game was a beautiful thing.
It’s game day and I’m once again hosting a tailgate experience for the Fishman Family Compound and our neighbors here in the Bay area. A quintessential tailgate dish to serve is chili. If you’re actually transporting chili to a game, it’s easy enough to transport in a crockpot. Instead of serving it in bowls or mugs. I like to make Frito Pie out of it. I learned of this unusual preparation on a trip to Sante Fe, N. M. back in 1986. We heard that you must try one at the Woolworth’s Five-and-Dime lunch counter at Sante Fe Plaza. They cut open the long side of a 1 oz bag of Fritos, ladled in the hot chili and topped it with shredded cheese, chopped onions, sour cream and/or hot sauce. If you hold it in a napkin and eat it with a spoon, it is totally portable. At home, I usually stick to large bowls and offer all the fixings for guests to create their own concoctions.
My chili recipe is made with ground beef but feel free to change it up to a combo of beef, turkey, or pork. All are delicious. I usually don’t make mine too spicy because you may not know your audience. Diners can always add hot sauce themselves if so desired. Lastly, if you have some chili left over, it makes a great meal piled on a large baked potato, stuffed into a quesadilla, or on top of an omelet. Chili is certainly a crowd pleaser and can be made for any festive occasion. When might you choose to serve your own pot of chili? Is it on game day, as a post-hike meal, or just for a casual Sunday gathering? Let us know at The Insider–we’d love to hear from you. Go Blue!
Meat Chili With Beans
Yield: 10 servings
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 lb. ground beef
1 lg. onion, diced small
1 poblaño or pasilla pepper, seeded, diced small
1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced small
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, diced small
3 garlic cloves, diced small
2 Tbs. chili powder
1 Tbs. cumin
1 Tbs. oregano
2 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cocoa powder
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
2 15 oz. cans kidney beans and their liquid
2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
In a large sauté pan or brasier, brown the ground meat in the oil over moderately high heat, breaking up with a spoon. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 5-8 minutes. Add the diced onion, peppers, and garlic. Turn heat down to medium. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the seasonings. Blend in well. Continue cooking until the vegetables are softened, about 8 more minutes. Add the tomatoes, beans, and can juices. Stir well. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Blend in the salt, chopped cilantro, and fresh ground black pepper. Adjust the seasoning.
Serve with any or all of these garnishes: shredded, cheese, chopped onions, chopped cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.