Between my deer fall in November and Husband Larry's flu and pneumonia happenings, we are trending towards a "War and Peace"-style book of experiences. This year's flu seems to have a mind of its own so please take it seriously if you touch base with it. It is more than just a conversation piece and can become a major player in your health.

We do need to keep our strength up for these cold days and also keep that cabin fever at bay so as was mentioned in the past, comfort food pays a big part in keeping us going. After we have eaten our healthy oatmeal and our hot soup, we need another comfort food project and that could be homemade chili. I did not realize how serious and involved chili can become. Most of us probably have not become too adventurous in trying new kinds and stick with the kind we grew up with.

Back in the day when I was growing up the few people who made chili called it "chili con carne" and that made it sound kind of foreign and probably hard to make. Little did we know that "con carne" translated to "with beef." We also did not know how big the world of chili was and we were just seeing the tip of the ice "chili" berg.

You can have chili that is not homemade - one way to get it is in the canned food section. There really is not a big selection with our local Hormel chili being the main player and then it's a choice of beans, no beans and low sodium. Restaurants and food places also offer chili and Wendy's has had it available for many years. In fact, there are many recipes for "Copycat Wendy's Chili." The reviews say it is easy and very close to original.

The big thing that I remember the most about chili is the big debate about whether or not proper chili has beans or not. Once that issue is beaten into place and the group that says beans are essential has to decide what kind of beans are the correct kinds of beans. It could be pinto, black or kidney beans to name a few of the top contenders. I also heard a few whispers that some people added diced celery!

The next thing I remember is that somehow or other chicken broke through the glass ceiling of chili meat and chicken chili and white chili entered the scene. This was very hard for me to accept as a true chili but little did I know that I was still living in a sheltered world and had so much more to learn about chili.

I started to notice that one did not just eat the chili as it was in the bowl, one had to decide if it needed grated cheese, sour cream, diced raw onions or some form of chips for toppings. That certainly did add interest to the chili taste but had to add a few steps to serving.

The chili world really popped open when I learned that not everyone just fried the ground hamburger. Oh my no! One had to decide if a beef chuck or another beef cut was the proper form to use for the meat. The next decision was if it was going to be ground, was it a course or very fine grind. Wait, I hear some voices saying, "never ever grind, you must cut in pieces." Once this has been figured out, the fry or not to fry step enters the picture. It also turns out that beef is not the total king of chili as other forms such as the chicken worked its way into the recipe. The next thing we know, things like venison, rabbit and even rattlesnake are fair game.

The real eye opener was that regional chilis each have their own ballgame. Texas chili and Cincinnati chili are two of the big players and both have devoted and loyal fans. From what I could find out, Cincinnati chili has a thinner consistency, cinnamon, cocoa, allspice and Worcestershire sauce in their list of ingredients. Its toppings include chopped onion, shredded cheddar cheese, refried beans, kidney beans and must have crushed oyster crackers. All of this is served over spaghetti. Oh, I almost forgot; a side order of hot dogs is also needed. Texas chili is usually made with chuck chunks and has garlic, oregano, cayenne pepper, paprika, chili powder, cumin and cornmeal. No tomatoes or beans are said to cross the lips of Texas chili eaters. Also remember among all of this there is vegetarian chili.

As you can see, it is a very flexible chili world and surprising things like chocolate find its way in. Pumpkin and squash also have been finding favor in chili and I am getting to the point that nothing will surprise me about what goes into chili or what it is served over.