SoNo Fest- Chili Tasting Meets School Fundraiser

A lot of people trying a lot of chili… and will be sleeping with the windows open tonight, said one of our friends, ha.

And the Genius Award in the category of Fundraising goes to (drumroll)… The Originators of The SoNo Fest and Chili Cook Off Fundraiser for McKinley Elementary School in San Diego.

The South Park/North Park community has a gold mine here. You buy your little sampler pottery bowl for $20 and get to taste five chilis. Want more? Buy another five sample pass for $15 and reuse your bowl. Bring your bowls back from the previous year, too, if you like.

All of the tax deductible proceeds from this event go to benefit the Spanish, art, and music programs at McKinley Elementary… to the tune of over $50K last year.

IMG_9555I realized really quickly that the best strategy for tasting the best chili is the most simple- when my bowl is empty, I try the chili from the nearest booth. It is that simple- they are all are delicious!! One of my favorites was the Duck Confit, Lardon, Sausage and White Bean Chili from Café Madeleine for a non-traditional chili. I’m not the biggest chili fan… OH MY GOSH THIS WAS DELICIOUS!!

IMG_9557My overall favorite was a Pork Belly and Smoked Brisket from The Deck at Moonshine Flats. An unbelievable, savory, meaty, flavorful taste and overall the best chili I’ve ever had. So there. Eat your heart out, every other place. This is something that is served in Heaven, I am sure.

IMG_9558Another out of this word chili came from City Tacos, and may well have been completely unplanned. When they ran out of their Albondigas Chili, they substituted Carnitas. I am already a huge fan of carnitas, and this sample was pushed over the top when topped by chicharrones and tortilla chip strips. I KNOW, RIGHT??? CHICHARRONES!!!

Finish that beer, there is more chili to taste!!

“Into the fun zone we go,” declared the ID checker we entered the Beer Garden. When one of our group (we’re looking at you, Johnnie!!) was holding up the Chili Sampling (Round 2!) with their unfinished beer, we decided to institute a new motto: Drink for Those Who Can’t… as in, if you can’t finish fast enough, we are now going to help finish it for you!

Music at both ends of the festival, student pottery available for purchase from the incredible gallery that is partly responsible for the SoNo Fest, unique vendors, and a handful of food trucks rounded out the sights for the day. Food trucks? I guess if you think you don’t like chili, you still will find some great eats here.

Thorn Street Brewery, a festival sponsor
Happy puppy, happy drinkers inside Thorn St. Brewery– nice people, too. If you two see this, hi!!
Inside the San Diego Ceramics Connection, major sponsor and partly responsible for the SoNo Fest
Buy my son some bow ties, Deedee, go ahead! Find these great ties online at

More gratuitous chili photos:


Peruanos for Refried Beans, Because Eva Said So… Delish!

I’ve tried to make refried beans before, and mine are nowhere near as good as our favorite Mexican restaurant. I’ve followed The Mom-In-Law’s recipe and still, no better. I decided to try a different kind of bean as suggested by a phenomenal woman I met when we moved back to California. Eva suggested trying Peruano beans, she liked their texture.

I’d do just about any suggestion that Eva offers. She is one of the first people we met at our kids new school six years ago, and she treated us like family. What a wonderful gift that is when coming to a new city and school! I will never forget when Southern California had a massive power outage four years ago right when I was to pick up my son for the day. The school principal and I wisely decided to wait out the traffic jam, saving ourselves HOURS of traffic misery (HA! A wise decision, in hindsight, see yesterday’s post!). Eva made a fried chicken dinner for the four of us, and this is typical of her kindness.

So, peruanos it is!

Cooked beans on left, uncooked, right...
Cooked beans on left, uncooked, right…

Once the beans were cooked, I poured them into my cast iron skillet that had about a tablespoon of melted bacon grease and another tablespoon of corn oil. Next step is to mush away with a potato masher- I prefer the masher as pictured…

Voilà! Refried beans!
Voilà! Refried beans!

If you want to make these a more decadent dish, stir in about a half cup (or more!) grated cheddar, or even better/worse, crushed chicharrones. NOT the kind you get in the snack food aisle at the quickymart. Get real, freshly made chicharrones from a Mexican grocer, or don’t try it at all- there is no substitution. Curious? Here’s a link to a home made chicharron recipe:  SeriousEats.comTheNastyBits:HowToMakeChicharrones