The Slow-Cooked Sentence


Rachael Conlin Levy


1. A love letter or note. In French, billet-doux means sweet note or short note.


I am one lucky woman. My billet-doux came on Valentine’s Day, but the gifts piled up though the week. First to arrive were two books from the Best American series I had on my wish list: “New Voices” and Nonrequired Reading.” Fittingly, the first two short stories I read from “New Voices” were about love, the loss of it and the attempt to regain it.

The editor, Dani Shapiro, promises the stories will be “daring acts of both head and heart — the intellectual high wire of craft combined with that elusive thing: the capacity to make the reader feel something.” With such expectation, I launched into the first two stories. “Bethlehem is Full” by Boomer Pinches is about a man deeply disturbed by his girlfriend’s abortion, while David James Poissant explores a father’s mistake and the monster he must set free in an effort to set things straight in “Lizard Man.”

The arrows sang as they flew through the air and landed with a resounding thwack! in my heart. I’m in love with this book and was deep into it when my husband came home from his woodworking class and offered me the third gift: A freshly planed, routed, sanded and oiled piece of wood.

“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made,” he said. “Beautiful and functional.”

The cutting board is solid, smooth as satin and striped with walnut, maple and eucalyptus. I’m a bit shy about cutting on it, so, instead I used an old board — stained red where strawberries had bled and scarred by many knives — to make him Pile-it-On Chili as one of many thank yous for the Valentine’s Day that lasted an entire week.

In the bowl:

Pile-It-On Chili

Pile-it-On Chili
Serves eight

2 pounds stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups onion, chopped
4 ounces green chili, chopped
15 ounces tomatoes, diced
4 cups water

refried beans
cheddar cheese, shredded
green onion
sour cream or toasted cumin seed crema, if you’re feeling fancy
peanuts (I kid you not. Before I had a son with a nut allergy, I’d toss a handful of peanuts on top. It was good. Really.)

In a large pot or dutch oven, brown meat in oil. Set aside. Toss onion, cumin, oregano and garlic into the pot and cook until onions are softened. Return meat and juices to the pot. Add the green chili, tomatoes and water. Bring to boil and then lower heat and simmer for at least an hour, two is better.

Shortly before the chili’s ready, heat the refried beans. In a bowl, plop some beans, ladle chili over it and then pile on the toppings.

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