Saturday, January 12, 2013

Smoky Black Bean & Bacon Chicken Chili

So I'm not gonna lie to you guys- this mom stuff is tough!

Especially when your little monkey is having digestion issues like ours.  We ended up having to take Mini Smalls to a pediatric gastroenterologist when we found out that in addition to her milk protein intolerance, she has a bad case of reflux.

The poor little muffin has not been able to get through a meal without stopping frequently and crying.  You can tell when the Tummy Gremlins are acting up - she is happily eating away when suddenly she stops, goes completely stiff & arches her back, then starts wailing.

With all the stopping & starting, it takes an hour or more for her to eat - so by the time she gets just a few ounces in her, she is usually exhausted and falls asleep.

But in addition to feeling absolutely horrible for her, I must admit I've been feeling pretty badly for myself.

As the Grinch would say "Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise, NOISE!"  All that crying can really get under your skin, especially when it is happening so frequently & there is nothing you can do to soothe the little critter.  Which is a huge contributor to my stress as well - our little girl is in pain, and as of yet there has not been a damn thing we've been able to do to stop it! Sooo frustrating.

By the time Mr. Vittles gets home from work, I've had it up to here with the crying, barfing, diaper changes, bottle-washing, and laundry.  Close to going off the deep end, cooking is usually the furthest thing from my mind.

Don't get me wrong, I knew motherhood would not be easy; but I had been imagining my maternity leave to be a bit more peaceful than it's been.  I want so badly to enjoy my time with my daughter, but in truth that's been very challenging at times - and I now go back to work in less than a month.


So this past week, we were having some beautiful weather & I decided to get out of the house and bring the Mini to a place that always makes me feel better - my hometown of Point Pleasant Beach.   And more specifically, the inlet (a waterway where the nearby Manasquan River meets the ocean).  Growing up I spent a lot of time hanging out there with my friends, and I would often take walks there alone to clear my head.

Luckily, this week it had the same effect on me that it had when I was a teenager.  As I pushed Mini in the stroller along the road that parallels the river (called Channel Drive) and up to the point that looks out over the inlet to the town of Manasquan, my exhaustion floated away and I felt content.

Along the way, many happy memories came flooding back.  I thought about climbing on the jetty as a middle-schooler, and writing "I love so & so" on the rocks.  We were all warned by our parents not to play on the rocks, but naturally we did it anyway.  And at the time, you had to swing out over the water around this fence to get to one part (that was always the scariest) but it never stopped us!

I also thought about the time that, right before we left for college, my best friend Lauren and I schmoozed our way to the very top of the Coast Guard station... only to be "propositioned" by a creepy officer more than twice our age.  (Almost twelve years later, the guy is still stationed there - I actually saw him!)

I thought about all the hours we spent in the car in the parking lot of the inlet, when we were home from college - we would go there after a party or bar-hopping to recap the events of the night.  "OMG, can you believe what he said about her???"  Ain't no drama like 21 year-old drama!

I also thought about when, four years ago this March, Mr. Vittles brought me out to the jetty and made me the happiest woman alive by asking me to marry him.

And then I thought that, someday, Mini will have such funny & happy memories.  (Hopefully not of creepy men trying to get in her pants, but ... yeah, probably those too.)

And I realized that my mother-in-law is so right when she says that 'this too shall pass.'  It's just a phase.  Our trip to the specialist has brought me hope that we can get these issues under control, and either way she'll eventually grow out of them as her system matures.  She won't cry & cry forever.

And someday I will wish I could return to these days, when she was tiny like this again.

When the slightest smile between those chubby little cheeks could light up my morning.

When she didn't mind that I covered her perfect face in about a million kisses every day.

When she could wear a bear hat and hold up her little fist of fury and melt my heart.

It really put things into perspective for me.

Later that day, when Mini was down for a nap, I talked to Lauren ("Hey, remember the time we...?")

We talked for almost two hours straight while I made this chili.

And all felt right with the world again :)

Smoky Black Bean & Bacon Chicken Chili

  • 1 T. vegetable oil
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 lb. lean ground chicken
  • 1 T. + 1 t. chili powder
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1 3/4 t. smoked paprika
  • 1 T. dried cilantro (or more, if using fresh) 
  • 1/4 t. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/4 t. salt (you can add more later to taste, but the bacon & broth are salty)
  • 1 14.5-oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 C. low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 t. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 1/3 C. cooked, finely chopped or crumbled bacon
  • 1 14.5-oz. can black beans (undrained)
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, heat oil.  Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 4 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook 1 minute.

Increase heat to medium-high and add ground chicken; break it up with a wooden spoon and stir gently until it loses its raw color, 6 to 8 minutes.

Stir in spices and salt and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth, Worcestershire, brown sugar, and bacon - bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover partially, and cook 30 minutes.

Add beans and cook 10 minutes, uncovered. Season to taste with additional salt and/or freshly ground pepper if desired. Serve warm.  Serves 4

Recipe adapted from (originally Sunset Magazine, January 2007 issue)


  1. Very sweet post. And I will say your mother in law always gave me the best parenting advice. Beth

  2. Really sad that your adorable little muffin has to go through such pain, I pray for her health. Such cute little miss with that cute bear hat. Love to try and warm up my tummy with this sizzling recipe. :) Got my eye on your next posts.

  3. Love your recipes! Oh, I can totally sympathize with you about your sweet girlie's reflux. My second baby had it BAD! I eliminated so many things from my diet that I was practically down to fruit and water, we tried multiple formulas with him, and nothing helped until he was put on medication. And even then we propped him up after feedings.. Heck, I think he slept in a car seat or bouncy seat most of his first year. It's hard to bear when they are so miserable and nothing seems to help, and the constant crying is hard on your sanity too! But your mother-in-law is right, it will pass! As someone who's been in the trenches, I can promise it will get better! Hang in there and get a break when you can!


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