A year or two ago, my friend Jordan gave me a jar of something called Chile Crunch, which we furiously ate and didn't replace since it's $12 a bottle plus shipping. I did some tinkering, and since I figured out how to make this, we go through almost a batch a week.
And when we run out, there's a lot of malaise, scrounging through the fridge for something that might approximate it. Sriracha? Too sweet. Tapatio? Too musky. Chile oil? Not crunchy. So I finally went to Cash and Carry, bought embarassing quantities of the ingredients, and once a week I can be found frying dried garlic and chiles in my wok, Wyatt walking up the stairs and asking hopefully, "Are you making chile crunch?" He never eats a sandwich without it, which warms my heart.
And Yancey is even more nutso about it, putting it on almost everything. You may have heard that the central part of Washington is engulfed in flames, and Yancey and a crew of firefighers from his station have been sent to help. 3 men died earlier this week, and I'm just heartsick for their families. And for the evacuees, the pets and wildlife, everything and everyone in the path of this insatiable fire. I've been flooded with love, check-ins, and well wishes and have been passing those onto Yancey, and I don't feel worried. I'm not a worrier. But I do feel a deep sense of reality, like the veil has been lifted for a bit and we can see into the nature of things. We are not in control, we're always on the verge of catastrophe, and we'd better learn how to be present to one another now, without waiting.
And I'm disporportionately nostalgic about things that remind me of Yancey--chile crunch, his tools in the garage, his little pile of keys, receipts, and flashlights by his bed. My neighbor and her infant daughter are without their husband/father for a year because he's been called up to the Army reserves and is serving in Afghanistan. This week is giving me the tiniest, teensiest idea of what it must be like for her, reading the news, checking Twitter feeds, looking for texts or emails. There are millions of people who, for many reasons, know they are on the edge all the time, and I'm appreciating them this week. (Thinking a lot about the anniversary of Katrina, too. For a great window into New Orleans then and now, I recommend my current favorite podcast, Death, Sex, and Money, its fabulous host Anna Sale, and her beautiful series on New Orleans.)
I've been fascinated by some studies I've read about collective trauma, and that part of what saves people is being about to do something with their bodies in the wake of diaster or in the middle of anxiety. That's probably why we cook for funerals and probably why I'm in the kitchen more than normal this week, makiing chile crunch, roasting hatch chiles, making granola, keeping my brain just busy enough and my body connected to the ground. I wish the same for you wherever are. xo
This won't taste quite right at first and needs to sit for about 24 hours to let all the flavors meld. So if you taste it right after it's cooled, you might be non-plussed. Be patient. It will reveal itself to you. And it keeps forever in the fridge.
1/2 c. dried minced garlic (not garlic salt or garlic powder)
1/2 c. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tb. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. salt
1 c. canola oil
Mix all ingredients together in a wok or heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5-7 minutes until oil is sizzling and garlic is just beginning to barely turn color. Turn off heat, let cool in the pan, and scrape into a glass jar. Cover and refrigerate.