‘Breakup Chili’ Season in Brooklyn

Lizzie and Kaitlyn attend a party with a very specific heart- and belly-warming theme.

An illustrated collage of elements of a chili-themed party—chili, candles, peppers, lime seltzer, Fritos, etc.
Paul Windle

Sign up for Kaitlyn and Lizzie’s newsletter here.

Kaitlyn: What is life but a series of meals, some of which are given dramatic titles to imbue them with random significance?

I once received an email from the comms team at Reddit promoting the company’s end-of-year data that made the claim that the top post of the preceding 12 months had been a recipe for something called “Divorce Carrot Cake.” Of course you’ve heard of Engagement Chicken, the roast chicken that reportedly brought about the betrothal of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, as well as that of Howard Stern and his second wife, Beth.

There’s also something called “Breakup Chili,” invented by our friend Tamar, that is based on the Texas-Style Chili recipe by The New York Times’ Julia Moskin and further inspired by a seminal blog post that Tamar and I have texted back and forth, and to whoever else needs to see it, for the past several years called “February is Breakup Season in Cape Town.” The post, by the writer Rosa Lyster, is about a cluster of early-winter breakups she’d observed, generally of “relationships about a year and a half or less, where breaking up doesn’t involve too much paperwork.” The reason we return to this post so much is because it features a great email from Lyster’s mom, offered as comfort to devastated winter-breakup victims, in which she talks about rereading her own diaries from when she’d just turned 30 and concludes: “The level of introspection and self-analysis and vacillation is truly alarming. I had no idea that my life as I know it now had not even begun and that I would be fine. Isn’t that strange.”

This is the fifth year of the Breakup Chili. Tamar makes it for us all once per winter. The third year was outside; it was 20 degrees and we ate out of our own jars brought from home. Some of the other years I don’t specifically remember. Of course, the first year is a private story. Traditions become most real when you obscure their origins and rewrite their lore!

Lizzie: This was the Breakup Chili’s fifth year, but it was my first year attending the party. Sometimes you gotta work for that invite! Anyway, great name. I understood the gist of it right off the bat: We’d be eating chili. There would be a meat one and a vegetarian one. Maybe someone would break up.

I don’t really have any meaningful foods in my own life. Certainly nothing that has ever gotten me engaged or divorced. That’s not to say that I’m a “food is fuel” person either. It’s just that, unfortunately, the most memorable foods in my personal history are the ones that have given me food poisoning. Hard to forget a turkey sandwich that ruined your life for a week.

I brought Matt along to the party because he’s from Texas and has strong opinions about chili (mostly re: beans). We got to Tamar’s at about 4:30, rang the bell three times, and sat on the stoop for a while before giving up and calling Kaitlyn for help.

Kaitlyn: I hate that this happened. One of my least favorite feelings is waiting on a stoop thinking, If the buzzer doesn’t work, and my text isn’t being answered, what technologies are even left to me? What if I’m not found for another 30 minutes and by then I’m crying? But she made it.

Nathan and I had taken the S to Prospect Park at about 4:00 p.m.—just before dark on a school night. We were carrying some queso-flavored Tostitos, some Topo Chico, and a loaf of sourdough Nathan had made at 1 a.m. while I was on the couch reading the Associated Press’s introduction to its original edition of the Warren Report (“Will history be fully content with the answers?” Guess!!!).

When you enter Tamar’s apartment, you have to go down a long hall that curves in such a way as to conceal the entire living area from view. You get to call out, “Helloooooo,” as if you were in the foyer of a mansion. When Tamar hustled around the corner to greet us, she was wearing a perfect linen apron that went down to her shins—a Christmas present from Alex who’d asked, “Do you think you’ll wear it on Breakup Chili day?” It had dark blue ties on either side and a scooped back. She could leave the house in it!

The apartment was in a state of stunning beauty and warmth. The living room was lined with cream taper candles and espresso cups of Swedish Fish, spicy pistachios, and cornichons. On the bar, Tamar had set up a row of glasses of premixed “ranch water,” which is what Kourtney Kardashian (among others) calls lime seltzer with tequila. She’d had another adventure at Best Meats on Flatbush, she told us. The boys there had cubed the chuck steak for her, and at first she wasn’t sure it was “cube-y” enough. Over FaceTime, her dad had said that the cubes were alright.

Woman's hands holding a phone, phone displaying a photo of cubed red meat.
Perfectly cubed chuck steak (Courtesy of Kaitlyn Tiffany)

Lizzie: Tamar showed us a photo of the raw cubed meat. Looked good to me! Nicely marbled, red, etc.

Really, you have to try and be a deserving guest at a dinner party these days, because hosting one comes with so many pitfalls that only a few brave souls attempt to do it, and even fewer invite more than 10 people. Do you know how expensive it is to buy meat for 20 people? We showed up with some nonalcoholic beer and a bag of Fritos. A bag of Fritos ran me back almost $6! I applaud Tamar for providing us with beef at a time like this, instead of telling us to just go home and chew some cardboard.

Kaitlyn: Though I hoped that the theme of the party would inspire juicy disclosure of romantic failures past, approximately 80 percent of the guests, including myself, were participating in Dry January. So the first 30 minutes were spent gossiping about how “they really have made advances” in nonalcoholic aperitifs and imaginary gin.

This reminded Sonia that her dad had recently learned that there are calories in alcohol, a life-changing revelation that prompted him to begin a somewhat extreme diet. From there, we got on the topic of the OMAD—“one meal a day”—lifestyle, which my dad is currently messing with, God knows why. Nathan said he wouldn’t be impressed until dads started doing GOMAD, which stands for “gallon of milk a day.” I thought he had just come up with that on the spot and was riffing, but I guess he knew someone in college who did it. They actually drank a gallon of milk every day.

Lizzie: He did mention that the GOMAD guy got sick pretty immediately. That’s like, what? 16 cups of milk? You probably shouldn’t be drinking 16 cups of any one thing in a day, except maybe water if you’re obsessed with peeing. (This isn’t medical advice, by the way; maybe you shouldn’t be drinking 16 cups of water a day.)

Kait’s razzing her dad for his recently acquired OMAD lifestyle, but she failed to mention that she herself is in the throes of some kind of 12-week juice-and-salad-eating commitment designed by Kate Upton, or maybe just approved of by Kate Upton. I was like, “Oh, is that enough food for a human adult?” and Kaitlyn was like, “Well, the morning juice is actually a shake.”

This will be relevant soon, as the sun sets and Kaitlyn gets hungrier by the minute. For now, she’s still holding it together in our ever-expanding conversation circle …

Kaitlyn: Amy was going to a date at a nearby bar called Fiona’s after the party, which prompted a discussion of Fiona the Hippo. Annie, a Cincinnati celebrity, explained that Fiona is currently “mating” with her mother’s boyfriend, who is the father of her tiny half-brother, Fritz. Lizzie was trying to understand and recited it back to her: “Her brother’s dad is also the man she’s having sex with?” When she heard herself, she didn’t like that she’d said “man.” She frowned and paused. “I mean hippo,” she said, very quietly.

Lizzie: Yes, a hippo! That’s what I meant. I don’t really know that much about famous zoo inhabitants in general, or about hippos specifically, but this sexual proclivity was news to me. An interesting conversation topic for a first date, perhaps.

Meanwhile, probably totally unrelated to the fact that she’d only eaten beet juice and romaine for the past two weeks, Kaitlyn started craning her head around every few minutes to glare toward the kitchen, where the chili was sitting on the stove. The chili was available for consumption, but inaccessible to us due to the crowd of people lingering in front of it. Kaitlyn watched enviously as they ate, blocking her path to non-juice dinner. It’s as if they were completely unaware that there were people in the next room positively starving!

The wall of an apartment kitchen, decorated with a bundle of dried chile peppers and a wooden goose.
Tamar’s Santa Fe chilis and her goose with moving legs (Courtesy of Kaitlyn Tiffany)

Kaitlyn: “If it were me, I would go into the kitchen and get some chili and then leave the kitchen,” I said. “I would probably not stand in front of the chili for more than a minute or so.” I was joking but …

Once I was finally in there I had to eat my words because I did not want to leave. It smelled so good—spicy, smoky, etc.—and Tamar has a Tiffany lamp on the butcher’s block and a big bundle of Santa Fe chilis on the wall. It’s the most wonderful kitchen in New York. The chili was amazing and there were no leaves or E3Live in it, which was absolutely thrilling for me given my current commitment to the lifestyle of the new First Lady of the New York Mets. Plus, Milena was standing off to one side telling one amazing story after another—about her brother staying at his ex-girlfriend’s apartment (near Hudson Yards?) in an “amethyst bed,” then about a “celebrity encounter” she’d had with a Brooklyn 8-year-old who is the namesake of a coffee shop that seriously everyone hates.

Lizzie: The same person who has the amethyst bed (it “looks like a regular bed,” if you were wondering) believes that one should have as many children as possible, apparently because with each additional child you have, the likelihood that one of them will solve climate change increases exponentially. Or something like that.

Milena also told us that a man in London once said to her, upon learning that she’s from New York, “Rice to Riches is the best restaurant in the entire world.” Anyone who knows what Rice to Riches is will recognize the charming absurdity of this statement. For those who don’t know, Rice to Riches is a counter-service restaurant that serves nothing but different flavors of rice pudding out of big plastic saucers. The place looks like it was designed by someone obsessed with the Jetsons, and features a veritable solar system of baffling signs that say things like “No Skinny Bitches!!!,” “Kiss My Fat Free Ass!!!” and “Man Discovered Farming … Invented Food. Woman Discovered Food … Invented Diet.” It’s been open since 2003, which is impressive for a restaurant in Soho that sells a single type of (apparently fat-free) dessert. The owner was arrested in 2005 for running a gambling ring, which adds to the establishment’s rice-y and dicey mythology. To call Rice to Riches the “best restaurant in the world,” apparently sincerely, is both inspiring and confounding.

Eventually, we got tired of standing in the kitchen, realized we were the new wave of chili-loiterers, and sat down at the table in the main room, waiting for other people to join us, like newlyweds situated in the middle of a banquet hall, anticipating visitors and gifts.

Kaitlyn: Tamar came to us with a pile of “freezer cookies”—oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies she’d baked on impulse for a mid-party dessert after remembering that she keeps cookie dough in her freezer just in case. She also keeps a glass bottle of premade Manhattans in her fridge. I’m sure you’d like to marry her!

When Neil stopped by the table for a mandarin and a bit of sourdough, I told him I’d seen him in our backyard setting up his new exercise equipment and asked what his workout regimen was. He didn’t want to get into specifics but he did have a point to make: He’d spent 15 years of his life going to the gym and doing stuff for hours, and it had all been a waste of time. “You don’t have to be that strong,” he said. “It’s so stupid.” He now does 30 minutes in the yard at 4 p.m. Squats and whatever he thinks of.

Lizzie: “Working out is for idiots,” he said.

We also talked about “buffet rules,” and how Nathan’s friend once got kicked out of a CiCi’s Pizza because he ate something off another friend’s plate without paying the required fee. I honestly didn’t know that buffet rules prohibited sharing, but I guess it makes sense, because otherwise you could buy one plate for 12 people. It was agreed that in this instance—a single, sneaky bite off a friend’s plate—Nathan’s rule-breaking friend should have been given a warning first, instead of being forced to stand out in the parking lot while the rest of his friends finished eating.

From there it was on to the topic of the Jimmy Fallon ride at Universal, which I thought was a joke that Nathan made up but is apparently real. We talked about how it’d be funny if Jimmy Fallon were the main guy in Taxi Driver instead of the 2004 flop Taxi. And what if it were Jimmy Carter who hosted a late-night show?

Kaitlyn: We were also suspicious of Nathan’s claim that Adam Driver is going to be in a new movie in which his spaceship crash-lands on “prehistoric Earth” and he has to fight dinosaurs with guns. Nathan pulled up a poster to prove it to us, but it honestly looked like something he could have made himself. (Having since watched the trailer for the real movie, 65, I’m still foggy on the premise. Is Adam Driver from Earth? And he stumbles across another planet similar to Earth, which happens to be in the same ecological state that Earth was in 65 million years ago? Or is Adam Driver from an Earth-like planet that is 65 million years ahead of Earth-Earth, and he stumbles across Earth?)

Anyway, there’s no knowing how these things happen, but more than once the topic of conversation turned to Jimmy Carter and how he is still alive despite the odds. (“He’s had many fatal diseases,” Katie said cheerfully, just as if she were saying something like, “He’s from Georgia.”) I bring this up because I think it’s a nice way to take things full circle …

If I understand correctly, when Jimmy Carter was a younger man and was president, many people considered him to be pretty ineffectual, and his own staff gaslighted him when he reported being menaced by a swimming “swamp rabbit.” But now he’s old and people remember that ineffectiveness fondly, believing it indicated that he was always too good for the disgusting task of wielding power. They now love him.

This is not to say that he has been “vindicated” or to encourage attitudes of waiting years or decades to say, “Look at me now” (toxic). I just bet that Jimmy Carter would enjoy a Breakup Chili and an annual reminder that life does go on and on and on until you can barely remember what it used to be like.

Lizzie: Honestly, sometimes life goes on so quickly that I forget everything that happens to us at these parties we go to!

Did someone forward you this newsletter? Sign up here.