Chef Tom – Three More Stories and Espresso Chili!

If you would be so kind as to indulge me, the next few submissions will include three (very) short stories I’ve written as part of a program called Round Robin. For eight weeks we had to write something every day based on short “prompts” from the instructor. We had to set the timer for 12 minutes. No longer. Hence their brevity. Had to squeeze as much into a few paragraphs as I could. Some stories, as you will see, even have multiple chapters.

Alarm goes off…stop writing.

WARNING: These stories are for entertainment only. If you’re not up to escaping for a couple of minutes and allowing each short story to unfold on its own without much in the “deeper meaning” department, please do not read.


Pale Dune Grasses

A good half hour’s drive down the back-country coastline road, with farms and open fields on one side and the crashing ocean on the other, was a turn out; a giant eucalyptus as landmark.

On a normal misty-rain-gray-sky day in Eureka, John and I drove my dad’s van to our rock. I pulled onto the turnout and we hopped out of the van. We made the twenty-minute hike over a wooden fence, down the side of a steep hill of pale grass, onto the bouldered coast, until we found the one house-sized rock that towered into a forty-foot dome at the ocean’s edge. Our rock. We deftly climbed the wet granite to the top where we sat, dangling our legs over the edge, facing out towards the thundering sea.

This was the time of year when the waves were huge, loud, and defiantly confident. Our rock was concave on the ocean side so when a wave broke, the water would shoot up and out, away from us, in a massive spray of white foam and sea water, high up over our heads. It was magnificent. To be able to sit so close to the raw power of nature, and not be swept away into the cold deep, was primal.

We’d smoke a joint and think about life and talk of heavy things and count the waves, crying out whenever there was a big one. It was cold, we were bundled in our jackets, the wind and rain red-glowed our faces. We were exhilarated and alive.

Back in the van I started the engine and put the thing in reverse to back out of the landing. My wheels spun in the wet mud. The back of the van started sliding ever closer to the cliff’s edge. I tried another couple of times. Closer and closer.

Stop, John said.

Wild Night

Someone Drove Me Home

Hank breathed in dirt. Dank grass pressed into his face. His head was a pillow of nails. Just past his dry lips in a puddle of cooling vomit was an empty rum bottle. A glint of sun from its glass neck needled into his eyes so he winced them shut. A wisp of memory wafted through his brain. He was digging deep into the lawn with all ten fingers, holding on with everything he had as the world tried to fling him into the night.

Slowly climbing to a sit, then with a grunt, rising to a stand, he teetered into the trek back to his hotel room. Passing by the pool, he noticed that the patio furniture had been bunched into a loose group at the bottom of the deep end.

He closed in on the stairs leading up to his floor and was accosted by the day manager, a small, gray man in a dingy blazer. “Mr. Jones, if I can have a minute,” the man urged in a rasp. “It’s about Mr. Reynolds. We have a big problem.” Irritated and embarrassed, he admitted that the chambermaids were afraid to enter Mr. Reynold’s room, and asked what could be done.

Now what, Hank thought. He took the card from the old man’s shaky fingers, swiped the door lock, and stepped into the dim. Feet caked in dried mud, legs and arms smudged with dirt and grass, his boss lay naked and snoring on the hotel bed. Next to his head on the pillow, loosely held in one hand, was a silver pistol – safety off, and cocked.



Galloping at top speed, Khaled grabbed a fistful of black horse mane, rocking himself out and down. Hooking his right leg over the horn of his saddle, he bent all the way over to just above the ground, two seconds before he reached the bright red jamjama. Grasping one of the ribbon handles, he hoisted himself back upright, gave the reins a quick jerk to the right and aimed his horse towards the large basket a hundred feet away.

He could hear two riders rapidly approaching him from behind and jagged his horse to the left to try and dodge them. They crowded in close behind. All three riders whipped their horses, yelling “Yallah!” and sprinted in a tight bunch at breakneck speed.

The goal basket was just ahead. He held the jamjama tightly in his left hand and steered his steed with the other. One of the riders leaned out to try and grab the thing from his hands, while the other began to kick him hard to knock him off his saddle.

Khaled loved this game. It was a hybrid between Polo, the sophisticated Sport of Kings with the red wooden ball, long mallets, fancy uniforms, and eight riders, favored by his grandfather, and Buzkashi, the “goat pulling” game played by locals who dressed in everyday clothing, with the chaos of a hundred riders all trying to grab the carcass of a goat from each other in order to toss it past their goal markers.

The jamjama was red, but it wasn’t made of wood. It was the head of a goat wrapped tightly in red ribbon, leaving “handles” for the players to grab as they battled to get the thing in their own goal basket on either end of the field.

At full gallop, holding fast to the reins, Khaled carefully climbed up on top of his saddle, kicking out against one of the riders, trying hard to balance himself and stay upright. His horse ran head-on towards the basket. The goal got closer and closer. He steadied himself and launched the jamjama over the head of his opposing teammate, sinking the skull directly into the wide mouth of the basket.

Behind him he heard the roar of his family and friends.



Black Bean and Espresso Chili

Serve 10

1/2 cup olive oil

3 large onions, chopped

3 pounds ground buffalo or goat or beef

3 tablespoons instant espresso powder

3 tablespoons chili powder

3 tablespoons ground cumin

3 tablespoons dried oregano leaves

1 1/2 large fire roasted stewed tomatoes (28 ounce)

3 tablespoons honey

6 large garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 cans black beans (15 ounce) rinsed, drained

1 1/2 cans pinto beans (15 ounce) rinsed, drained

2 1/4 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon salt, or more, to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons chili en adobo sauce, or more, to taste

1 1/2 large pinch of ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and caramelize (cooking low and slow, covered, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until onions are browned and sweet).

Once onions are nicely caramelized, add the meat to brown.

Mix in espresso powder, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Cook 10 minutes. Mix in tomatoes, honey, and garlic. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Add beans, stock, salt, adobo, chocolate and cinnamon. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until mixture thickens slightly, stirring often, about 30 minutes. Season with salt.

(Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm before serving.)

Place toppings in individual condiment bowls. Ladle chili into bowl and serve toppings alongside.

Assorted toppings: sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped green onions, shredded cheese, sliced jalapeños, and shaved bittersweet chocolate


Chef Tom is currently transitioning from Personal Chef to Private Chef. He also teaches cooking classes, caters small parties and leads overseas culinary tours. His specialty for the last twelve years has been cooking for people with food allergies and sensitivities. His motto is “Food should give you pleasure, not pressure.”

Check him out at

2 Responses to “Chef Tom – Three More Stories and Espresso Chili!”

  1. Marlene Schuler Says:

    New format for this column is always interesting. Enjoyed your stories and your words seemed to flow effortlessly. Oh and the chili recipe is tempting and makes me want to run out and get some of the ingredients that I don’t have in my pantry.

    • Thanks, Marlene. I appreciate it.

      btw – if you, like Bob, are not a fan of beans, the recipe works just fine without them. Instant coffee, or even a cup of strong brew works in place of the espresso powder. A big spoon of chili powder could replace the adobo. If you have some instant hot chocolate mix, just double the amount in place of the dark. Taste it before you put in the honey so it’s not too sweet, as the instant hot chocolate usually has sugar in it. Pretty versatile recipe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: