How To, by Candance Booth | Chili Cookoff, Shredder Classic & Sewing Lessons

We started off the month with the office’s first annual chili cookoff. In general I avoid potlucks, because the combination of a dozen or so different ethnic dishes has the same effect on me as mixing wine and beer. But I got sucked in by the notion that all chili was basically the same. Here’s a partial list of this year’s entries:

Buzzard’s Breath Chili. Might have been called Road Kill Chili, since it was prepared by the company chef, a man who prides himself on thriftiness. I just pretended to test this one.

Chili of Dreams. The contributing team created a home video based on the expression, “If you cook it, they will come.” I came back three times.

No Name Chili. Managed to get this delicious but soupy version all over my new white T-shirt. Should have been renamed #*!$%*! Chili.

Chili Bugs. Plastic scorpions and tarantulas covered the display and the edges of the crock pot. I veered sharply.

Risky Chili. The cook is one of our top security experts.

Alien Abduction Chili. Samples were spooned out by someone dressed as an alien. Mystery topping was billed as green slime, but tasted a lot like sour cream.

You don’t have to live in Texas to host a chili cookoff. Do it for Earth Day and advertise it simply as “How to Eat to  Create Natural Gas.”

Meanwhile, across town at the Abingdon office in Great Britain, they were pushing a different kind of food.

To: allstaff@abingdon . . .

My daughter is baking cakes to raise money for school funds. I have a dozen hand crafted fairy cakes with pink icing for sale at 20p each. So if you fancy a little something with your coffee or a change from those industrial chocolate muffins for lunch please drop by and buy one.

I’m sick to death of those industrial muffins. If only I could get a dozen fairy cakes, I’m sure they would be the antidote to TNT chili. Of course the question in everyone’s mind is, why does Abingdon email circulate in Austin? Three Austin engineers got onto the list by mistake, and one of them is a pretty unlikely candidate for fairy cake. He’s an avid weight lifter whose gym is hosting The Shredder Classic later this month. People who enter contests called The Shredder Classic do not eat fairy cake unless they are trying to work out How to Come in Last.

I decided not to enter the Shredder Classic, only because it conflicts with my beginner’s sewing class. My last experience with sewing took place in seventh grade home economics in which I learned 1) how to bake Vienna sausages in biscuit dough and 2) how to make a dress that doesn’t fit. My dress was to be pale pink with crocheted daisy-chain trim. My classroom sewing machine had two speeds: Runaway and Tangle. By the time I got around to adding the trim, I was avoiding the motor pedal. I advanced the feed by rotating the fly wheel with my hand. I spent two weeks attaching three feet of trim.

I’m the oldest woman among the five sewing students. This became evident when we were learning to thread the machine. “Hey,” I said, “my needle doesn’t have a hole.” Blank stares from the 20-year-olds. I had a sudden flashback to a moment with my mother about 30 years ago. We were leaning over a city map and I was reading out street names.

“Can you actually see that print?” my mother asked.

“I can read even SMALLER print,” I said proudly. My eyes were like an electron microscope that you could set to 10x, 50x, 100x just by pushing a button.

“Either this sewing needle doesn’t have a hole, or I need glasses,” is what I was saying last week. Someone stole my electron microscope. It was an eye opener, so to speak: how to get a clue about where the parade is headed.

The pregnant girl next to me offered to help thread my needle. (Later, does she say to her husband, “Boy am I hungry! I’m seeing for two now.”) Except for that part, though, I’m doing okay. In fact, I sew pretty fast. I kind of have to, since I don’t have a sewing machine at home. I don’t want to get to the end of the class and only have one sleeve finished, or only three out of five buttonholes. Also, I don’t have any expectations about this blouse. I picked fabric I thought was pretty, but I’m completely prepared to throw it away. The other girls are being more careful, but not necessarily producing straight lines. The more cautiously they go, the more seams they have to rip out. That might be the most valuable how-to this month.

The feeder dog
advances us all,
fine scarf silk
or thick tweed.

One trick is not to push.

A bobbin winds
a different course,
backwards and
shorter and fast.

One trick is to let go.


Visit the Index for more essays by Candance Booth and other witty Iowa writers.