Start with one can of chili, and several other cans of things that you think should be in chili. For example: Corn. Stewed tomatoes. Various types of beans.
I am not great at feeding myself. Not in a diagnosable way — more in the sense that if I gave in to my inclinations I would exist solely on spaghetti, grilled cheese, granola, and frozen mango. I have been reliably informed that this is not a valid recipe for health.
Once upon a time, when I was married and trying to feed myself and my husband on a limited budget, I started a cooking blog. I documented recipes, the appliances and gadgets and utensils I did or did not have in my kitchen, the ingredients I could or could not afford to buy, the results of the recipes, the trials and tribulations and triumphs of making “real meals.” I read other food blogs. I asked for advice and shared tips and tricks in comment threads. I was excited about recipes. I bought some cookbooks. Some things turned out well; some things did not. I was not great at it, but not awful either. It did not last.
Neither did my marriage. Like most toxic relationships, it spiraled up and down while maintaining a front of harmony to the point at which, when it all finally fell apart, the shock to ourselves and some of those around us was genuine. Others, mostly those who had interacted with my ex on their own, without me there as a buffer, without the performance of our marriage, were not shocked at all.
Take your can of store-bought chili. I prefer Trader Joe’s brand, the kind with beef. I started eating meat again at roughly the same time my ex and I started dating. I thought I was going to Mongolia with the Peace Corps. I had passed the physical, bought waterproof hiking boots, had a timeline. I said to myself, Self, you might have to eat sheep parts in Mongolia, you should probably teach your body to eat meat again. I bought Lean Cuisines that involved meatballs, and some frozen pepperoni pizzas.
I was a vegetarian from high school through college mostly because a friend of mine became one and it sounded rebellious and conscientious and fringey, and I wanted very much to be all those things. Also I am lazy, and you have to pay attention to cook meat. You do not have to pay attention to boil water for pasta, or to chop up some fruit.
Where were we? Take that can of chili. Put it in a pot. Add your other cans, keeping ratios in mind. For example, you do not want to swamp your chili with corn. If you are adding both corn and tomatoes, make sure to add extra beans. If you are adding one or the other and nothing else, probably just half a can will do. If you are adding beans, make sure to drain the beans beforehand. Add extra meat if you so desire, but you have to cook it first. I forgot to mention — make sure to put this in a large pot. Heat up the pot til it boils, then lower the heat and simmer for ten minutes or so. To let the flavors blend, you see.
I didn’t go to Mongolia. I got married instead. These days, my ex and I don’t speak. Initially this was my choice, but now it is his. The power has shifted — now that the paperwork is done, and I am no longer reluctantly obliged to be in contact with him, no longer shrugging off the polite chitchat of his emails with my abrupt and brusque requests for further information in order to accomplish the necessary paperwork; now that that is all over and the divorce is finalized, and yet there are still unresolved money issues, which of course I deal with because I have worked very hard at rebuilding my credit, after years of his mooching and paying for his booze while he tried to write, while he didn’t work so that he could write, which partially meant writing but also meant lounging around the house playing video games and drinking; now he does not return my emails because I am asking him to take responsibility and he will not. This is not particularly surprising, but I am surprised at how it devastates me, at how it surprises me. I was the long-suffering party, I am allowed to rebuff him. He is not allowed to ignore me — and yet he is managing to do that very thing, very effectively.
We don’t live together anymore. I don’t pay his rent, don’t have to coax his drunk ass to bed, don’t make late-night runs to the liquor store. I don’t feed him anymore. But he remains a source of financial woe. I tell myself this last round was really the last of it, but I thought that two rounds ago, so who knows.
The beauty of Apocalypse Chili is that it is very cheap, and yields large quantities. One person could eat it for a week. Two people, for a few days. It also is a great way to clean out your pantry shelves, use all those cans of things you had specific intentions for but haven’t quite managed to use. It will make you feel like you are ready for anything, that with enough cans of things you can nourish yourself no matter what is outside, banging on your walls.
Am I mad at him? When I talk about him, about the situation, sometimes I am able to sound mad. My friends nurture this anger, because they know that I am not actually that good at being mad. I am much better at being sad, disappointed, resigned. Even passive aggressive — I’m pretty sure I was that for a large portion of my marriage. Justified or not, I am trying to trade those tendencies in for anger. A slow burn, a white-hot flash, whatever I can find in myself. If you do it right, anger is energizing and cleansing. It can move you past, move you through.
If I had gone to therapy, I probably would have spent a lot of time working on that. Instead, I went to AlAnon meetings, regularly then sporadically then not at all. They were wonderful. Once, about six months after I sent my ex away, I sat in a meeting and cried the entire time. I was sad about my marriage. I was sad about the fling I had had with a recovered addict that had just ended. I had so much sadness, and at a meeting you can share that without having to talk about it. You can sit in the corner and cry, and after the meeting some people will hug you and others will ignore you, but no one will wonder why you are crying and no one will try to fix it. I often tell myself that I will start going to meetings again soon, but there is always something else to do. And I have less sadness these days — these days, I am working on anger.
Sometimes I am better at feeding myself than others. Sometimes I will buy fresh vegetables from the grocery store, and actually cook them. Often, these meals turn out well. But inevitably, there comes the week that all the vegetables sit in their wrappers and rot, or the night that the meal does not turn out well but I eat it anyway because you shouldn’t waste food. I return to my standbys. I have reminders now, to take better care of myself. To eat right. To not spend time with people who are bad for me. Some are tattooed into my skin. Others are things I tell myself. Others are things my friends have learned to say to me. Sometimes, I am good at these things. Other times, I take the easy way out, which is to say I do alright but I could do a lot better.
Eating the first bowl of chili, if you have considered your ratios and let everything simmer together, and created the right flavor combinations, will be magical. It will be hearty, filling, and delicious. Transferring the rest of the chili into a giant tupperware is also magical. It is rewarding, and exciting to see how much more delicious chili you have to eat. I am sorry to say the last bowl will probably not be magical, but it will be one less meal that is grilled cheese or spaghetti, one more meal where you can say “Well, at least I had chili for lunch. It had vegetables in it and everything.”