Penis Burning Chili

Penis Burning Chili

Have you ever eaten chili so hot that it burned your penis? Well, I have. In fact, I not only ate it. I made it. And I tried to serve it to my family. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start this story at the beginning.


For several years, my wife received a subscription to Martha Stewart’s magazine for a Christmas present. I’m not really sure how much Sheri got from the monthly compilation of food, crafts and home-decor tips, but I loved it! Every month, the morning after it arrived, Martha accompanied me into my tile and porcelain office, and I examined all the seasonal recipes with great delight. I was more enamored with the savory than the sweet, but even a simple sugar cookie recipe from the queen homemaker, Martha, deserved a cursory glance.


One autumn, maybe a decade ago, I opened Martha’s mag to find it staring back at me in all of its simple and authentic glory: The “Cowboy Chili” recipe that would leave an indelible mark on my manhood.


With only eight pure and basic ingredients (beef (chunked, not ground), tomatoes, cumin, oregano, jalapenos, garlic, onions and dried chilis), it was billed as authentic because that octumvirate of staples always accompanied cowboys traveling in a western wagon train. It also attracted my attention because it was simple enough for a culinary neophyte to attempt. I said I read the food section of Martha Stewart Living religiously. I didn’t say anything about making any of the recipes. At least not until now.


Cowboy Chili…challenge accepted.


I really wanted to impress my family at Christmas. My parents were visiting, so the timing was perfect. One of the underlying causes of my alcoholism was feeling driven to live up to self-imposed expectations, especially in comparison to the accomplishments of my father. This was, of course, well beyond my conscious understanding at the time. But I knew I needed the praise that comes naturally when a culinary masterpiece is delivered with confidence.


Another corollary to active alcoholism is confidence. In fact, my assuredness went far beyond confidence into arrogance and borderline narcissism. I didn’t even consider making a test batch. I was all in. In fact, I upgraded from beef chuck to bison to give my Cowboy Chili a Colorado flair. Given the significant expense of bison steak, and the arrogance with which she was all too familiar, my confidence was countered by considerable trepidation and distress on the part of my spouse. I was undeterred. Eight basic ingredients. Eight. Even drunk, I couldn’t fuck that up.


The only preparatory issue I stumbled through was when I couldn’t find the exact dried chili peppers after I took out a second mortgage at Whole Foods to finance the bison. No matter. With my trusty Martha mag at my side, I chose a substitute chili that matched the size, shape and color of the ones in the glossy picture. Problem solved.


Christmas morning was filled with music and sparkly lights on the tree and exuberant kids and bottomless mimosas. As the family bartender, I ensured that the other adults drank a 50/50 mix of sparkling wine and orange juice from fluted Champagne glasses. I had learned years prior that just a couple of drops of orange juice overwhelms the bubbly booze from the standpoint of color, so my beverages, stealthily refilled at frequent intervals, were more like a 95/5 ratio.


Feeling invincible, I retired from the tree-adorned living room, and all of the family festivities, to the kitchen to drink IPAs and prepare my masterpiece. My father was the first to notice a burning sensation in his eyes as I blistered the dried chilis in the cast-iron skillet. He left the kitchen in discomfort and dismay. Not me. I had too much holiday cheer and liquid confidence flowing through my bloodstream to stop and consider the relationship between the spicy smoke and the costly mistake I was about to push through and make. I continued to follow the recipe through painfully squinted eyes.


I hydrated and blended the chilis, seeds and all, and prepared the other ingredients with oblivious persistence. I continued to down IPAs as I stirred my concoction together. Between the mimosas and beers, I was well hydrated, necessitating lots of trips to the cowboys’ room.


As I stirred the simmering pot, I started to feel an uncomfortable and unfortunate tingling down below. The pain intensified, and I began to question where my little cowboy had been without my permission. Eventually, I could stand it no longer, and I insisted that my wife join me for a troubleshooting session in the bathroom while I applied the temporary soothing only cold water could provide.


That was the Christmas I learned that when preparing Cowboy Chili, especially with disproportionately spicy substitute chilis, it is essential to wash my hands before I go to the bathroom.


In the end, the chili was inedible no matter how much I cut it with tomato sauce and sour cream. I wasted a lot of money. I ruined Christmas dinner. I gave my family ammunition to tease me for weeks to come. For an alcoholic with self-esteem issues (I am pretty sure all alcoholics have self-esteem issues in spite of our arrogant exteriors), my burning penis was the least of my worries. That was the Christmas I stirred up a big, nasty pot of shame that no amount of IPA could relieve. Shame, and envy for the gender that pees hands free while sitting down.


If you can relate – to battling the shame of alcoholism, not the burning penis – please consider joining us in SHOUT Sobriety. Sitters and standers are both welcome.

SHOUT Sobriety

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  • Reply
    December 21, 2022 at 6:26 am

    I remember the burning penis, but not what we eventually had for Christmas dinner. Looking forward to another Christmas adventure with you and your family In just a few days. ❤️

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      December 21, 2022 at 8:14 am

      No chili this year. Too many scorched memories.

  • Reply
    Anne K Scott
    December 21, 2022 at 10:27 am

    Oh your stories Matt. Poignant and powerful. Like those chillis!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      December 21, 2022 at 10:30 am

      Thanks Anne! When editing from now on, I will consider what “chili power” each piece I write has.

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