Monday, September 23, 2013

The Easiest Best Chili Recipe In The World

The world needs the recipe for Grant's Mom's Famous Chili.

(Editor's Note: I just made this chili again, for the umpteenth time and it turned out great, as always, and thought I'd repost this entry from way back in 2008 for those who missed it.)

Everyone loves this chili.

My mom made it quite often when I was growing up. We'd always crush saltine crackers over the top for the final touch. I use Jacob's Cream Crackers now, since you can't buy real saltines in Prague. (Robertson's sells Cream Crackers.)

There's just no way to screw up this chili, and it's versatile enough that you can add (or subtract) anything you want from it.

You can add more meat, or make it half ground beef and half ground pork, or take out the beans, or just add one can instead of two, or spice it up with more chili powder. I've even poured a few shots of bourbon in for a little extra kick.

It's also very simple to prepare. Open a few cans, chop an onion and a couple of peppers, and that's it.

It always comes out tasting great, and is the hit of any party I bring it to. I always bring home an empty pot.


2 pounds ground beef or beef/pork, give or take (or around 1 kilogram)
1 or 2 large onions, chopped
1 or 2 large green peppers, chopped
1 or 2 cans kidney beans
2 large cans chopped tomatoes
2 or 3 cloves of crushed garlic (or garlic powder) to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
1 package premixed chili con carne spice mix

Place beef in big pot and add 1 cup of water (about .25 liter). Stir beef to remove lumps. Add other ingredients. Stir it up.

Cook on low heat for 3 to 4 hours until done.

Add extra chili powder when finished, to taste. But be careful, a little goes a long way.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why We've Gone On Vacation To Brela (Croatia) For 10 Years In A Row

At Obala, one of our other favorite dining spots. (2013)

After 10 years in a row of vacationing in the same house in the same village on Croatia's ridiculously gorgeous Adriatic coast, people often ask us how we ended up in tiny Brela.

It was the late summer of 2003, not long after we started seeing each seriously, and Daisy and I were looking for somewhere to travel to together that Emma, her then 3-year-old daughter, would also enjoy.

Asking around, Daisy heard from a work colleague about a little place about 20 minutes north of Makarska, an hour of so south of Split. It had apparently once been the place to go on holiday for Yugoslavia's elite. And we were fascinated by the idea of going to Croatia. We'd heard many wonderful things.

One of the many idyllic beaches along the six kilometers or so of shaded promenade in Brela. (2013)

Shortly after that, we stumbled across an article from "Forbes" that listed the world's 10 most beautiful beaches, and a blue-flag beach in Brela was among them -- listed first in Europe and sixth in the world.

Brela it would be.

I stopped by the Anagram bookstore behind the Tyn church to buy a Lonely Planet guide to Croatia, hoping for some tips on where to stay and what else to see. As I recall it, the cashier noticed my purchase and asked me about my trip. I told him about the "Forbes" article and mentioned Brela. He lit up. He knew Brela, had some sort of connection to it. Maybe he was Croatian. My memory is a bit fuzzy.

Daisy and Emma in 2003, our first year in Croatia.

What I know for sure is that he immediately made a call to a travel agent friend of his, told her about us, and instructed her to find us a place to stay in Brela that would be right on the beach. I stopped by her office a few days later and picked up a voucher that we would present to a travel agency in Brela, who would show us to our flat.

We flew to Split, rented a car, and drove the 75 minutes or so south to Brela along a dizzying two-lane cliff-hugging coastal highway that afforded sweeping views of the Adriatic across to the islands of Brac and Hvar.

The kids in 2008 (top), 2012 (middle) and 2013.

(After the first two years of renting cars, we realized that the car was mostly sitting unused while we spent the days on the beach, so we've since hired a taxi to pick us up and take us back to Split. We did use it to drive to Dubrovnik those first two years, which was great, but now we're content to just stay on the beaches in Brela.)

To make a long story short, we had such a wonderful time that first year that we've gone back to Brela every single year for the past 10 years and have stayed in the same house on the same beach. (And no, I'm not going to reveal our secret spot. Even writing about Brela makes me nervous, as if I'll somehow ruin it by doing so.)

It turned out to be such a perfect vacation for families with small kids that we invited our dear friends to join us. The second year we were there, Stewart and Kathleen Moore joined us with their two boys, and they've been back every year since. A year or two after that, Momchil Blagoev and Tanya Kancheva joined the group with their son Victor, and they haven't missed a year since.

Brela sunset.

We've also had various family members and friends join us for our usual two weeks in paradise. Quite a few other friends, hearing our stories, have also gone down to Brela on our recommendation and had a blast. A few of them have also returned to Brela for a few years running.

Even though they're all teen-agers now, to suggest to the kids that we pass a summer without a visit to Brela would be to utter the unthinkable.

I have this image in my mind that Brela looks and feels much like the French Riviera must have in the 1920s. Unspoiled. As yet undiscovered by the teeming masses. The beaches -- made up of small white rocks, not sand -- are clean, the water clear and inviting. There are no multistory hotels scarring the landscape. The restaurants are reasonably priced, the food simple and delicious. The local beer is crisp and cold, and the white wine exceedingly drinkable. The Croatian people are friendly and welcoming.

If you know what's good for you, you'll get yourself to Brela next year (or even this year, as September is a fantastic time to visit). Just don't spoil it for the rest of us.

Doing what we do best.

Stewart and Kathleen.

Momchil and Tanya.

Heading to dinner with Stewart and Kathleen (2013).

Happy together (2013).

Every year, the men wake up early and walk along the coast to the nearby village of Baska Voda, which has a fresh fish market. We buy a mess of fish and bags of fresh green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, and corn and have a barbecue on the terrace that night back at the house.

Also a tradition is that after we've bought the fish and vegetables, we retire to a nearby cafe for a few beers to reward ourselves for our early morning labors. This year, the first beers were served at 7:53 a.m.

One of our special restaurants in Brela, Ivandica Dvori, which requires a free taxi ride to get to, but which has wonderful food and fantastic views across the sea. (2013)

Tanya and Momchil getting to know each other on the way to dinner. We had a big group and seats were hard to come by in the free taxi to Ivandica Dvori. (2013)

Fried smelt. So good.

Each year, we love to take the yellow "speedboat" ride to the island of Brac. This year, on our way back, we spotted a pod of dolphins. (2013)

Stewart and Kathleen on the speedboat on the way back from Brac. (2013)

Momchil looking cool, on the lookout for dolphins. (2013)

A harborside scene in Pučišća, on the island of Brač. (2013)

Brač, which is famous for the white stone quarried on the island. The White House in Washington is made from Brač stone.

Brela sunset. (2013)

The kids got to navigate their own paddleboat this year, sans adults. This photo captures the moment when Stewart passed along a box of pizza for them to enjoy on the water. No wonder they like coming back. That's the life! (2013)

The gang, including Stewart's mother, Mabel, who's joined us in Brela for the past four years or so.

A big plate of mussels at Arca. The bibs were new this year.

Emma and Daisy, stylin' on their way to dinner.

Dinner at Obala with Tanya, Momchil, and Victor.

They are growing up so fast.

Hot dogs, no fish, for the kids on barbecue night.

A rooftop in Brela. It's said the clay tiles were originally formed by shaping them over the thighs of the muscular male kiln workers.

This view of Brela probably hasn't changed much in the last 50 years. 

Brela sunset.

A Renault 4 GTL, built in the 1960s or '70s in what was then Yugoslavia, now Slovenia. Still ubiquitous on the streets.

Still life at the beach.

Yes, that's what the water really looks like.

Croatian prosciutto, melon, olives and roasted hazelnuts. And of course a cold beer.

We were eating at Arca and noticed this cat who had decided to use the tented ceiling as a soft bed. (2013)

Kamen Brela, or Brela Stone, the symbol of the village. (2013)

At Arca, one of our favorite restaurants in Brela. They treat us right there. (2013)

Brela. (2013)

Brela. (2013)

I was sitting on the beach when the fruit boat arrived. This family stepped right up. I couldn't resist taking their picture. You see small kids running around naked all the time on the beach in Croatia. Many women go topless. It's a far cry from the Jersey shore.

A view of the Adriatic from the six-kilometer promenade, shaded by old pines, that runs along the entire Brela beachfront, one of the many things that makes the village very special.

When we think of the food in Croatia, this is what invariably springs to mind first: grilled calimari.

This year, for the first time, we decided to drive the 12 hours or so down to Brela, so we could stop along the way at Plitvice Lakes National Park, a couple of hours north of Split. The drive was long, but we'd heard so much about Plitvice that we just had to see for ourselves. Well worth it. (2013)

At Plitvice. (2013)

Plitvice. (2013)

At Plitvice. (2013)

A waiting area in our cool communist-era hotel at Plitvice. (2013)