The Sandpoint Eater: It’s chili out there

By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist

It’s cold outside, which means every town worth its weight in snow, including Sandpoint, is gearing up for their annual frosty festivities. Call it what you wish, winter fair, carnival or festival — it’s that time, when even we fair-weather wimps are likely to bundle up and head (briefly) outdoors. Ours Winter Carnival, in its 45th year, kicks off on February 15th, with the Weird and Wonderful Winter Parade of Lights, followed by an after party at Pend d’Oreille Winery and the Fat Pig.  

Most winter carnivals involve traditional winter pursuits such as elaborate ice or snow carving, ice hockey, skating, skiing, skijoring and dog sledding. Then there are the over-achieving organizers across the country who get creative with esoteric, crowd-drawing themes: 

The Whitefish Winter Carnival celebrates the story of Ullr, the Nordic god of snow, who, legend has it, settled in northwest Montana and made his home on Big Mountain.  The bravest amongst us can head on over this week-end and ski right through town before jumping right into the Polar Plunge, Feb 2, on Whitefish Lake.

To the south, Lava Hot Springs, Idaho is famous for its Fire & Ice Festival. Visitors can also catch the Polar

Float Parade, where participants dress up in crazy and creative costumes and float down the Portneuf River. The town is filled with natural hot springs and the festival concludes with their annual Running of the Bulls, a race from one hot spring to the next — in swimsuits and flipflops. These are some hearty (or just plain crazy) folks! Additional info:

Talk about the dead of winter inspiration, in the mountain town of Nederland, Colo., you’ll find the Frozen Dead Guy Days (in honor of Bredo Morstol, who is frozen in a state of suspended animation and housed in a shed, on dry ice high above Nederland). They’re busy gearing up for coffin racing, more polar plunging (costumed), and a frozen t-shirt contest. 

Some of the most elaborate festival sites include Montreal, Quebec, St. Paul, Minn., and Saranac Lake, N.Y., which have all been around for over 100 years. Long before sun lamps and snow-birding, these events were created to help locals beat the winter blues and heal cabin fever, while showcasing their Siberia-like destinations to warm -blooded tourists. 

Closer to home, Banff launched a winter carnival in 1917, which operated successfully for many years, until 1958, when warm chinook winds blew through, eating the snow and ice. All events were canceled and soon the mountain village was filled with booze-filled revelers looking for action. They found it, in a Main street brawl that resulted in more than 50 arrests and cancellation of the carnival the following year. 

Everyone has a favorite winter carnival activity, and it goes without saying that mine revolves around (indoor) food competitions. Traditional winter food wars include Hot Dish Cook-Offs (think Tater Tots, all dressed up with somewhere to go), Chocolate Challenges, Cinnamon Roll Bake-Offs (a favorite of mine), and the always popular Chili Contest. I have been both an entrant and a judge, and from either side of the oven, these events are always highly competitive and completely entertaining. 

If you have a hankering to ham (or beef) it up with your own recipe, you can do just that at the Winter Carnival Chili Cook-Off Party. Bring a crockpot of your best chili to Pierce Auto Center on Friday, Feb. 22, where you’ll compete against a brigade of other amateur chili chefs (including The Festival Gals). Or, if you’re cold, lonely or just plain hungry, show up, eat some chili, and vote for your favorite entry. Hosted by Pierce Auto Center and the Festival at Sandpoint. Event is 3-5:30 pm. 30 Gun Club Road in Sagle. For more information call (208) 263-4212 or:

This chilly weather screams for something to warm us up before we head out to all the Carnival adventures. While lots of western chili recipes are typically red, my favorite is Green Chile and White Bean Chili, served with limes, lots of cheese, roasted peppers, avocado and sour cream. And more cheese. Try whipping up a batch, and contest or not, it will be a winner with your crowd, too. 

For more information on our own hometown Winter Carnival adventures:

Green Chile with White Beans Chili Recipe • Serves 6

One of my favorite winter meals. I use dry beans (soak overnighted, and simmered for 2-3 hours). This recipe substitutes canned beans for faster preparation. Serve with corn bread or tortillas, and add a nice condiment bar of extra chiles, extra cheese, sour cream, avocado, cilantro and big wedges of lime.


• 4 tablespoons olive oil

• 2 pounds pork loin roast, cubed 

• 1 medium-size white onion, chopped 

     (about 2 cups)

• 1 poblano chile, seeded, chopped

• 3 garlic cloves, minced

• 1 tablespoon ground cumin

• 1 tablespoon kosher salt

• 1 27-oz can green chiles, undrained – 

     process in Cuisinart or blender (with 

     liquid) until chiles are finely minced 

• 2 (15.5-oz) cans white beans (such as 

     cannellini or great Northern), drained 

     and rinsed (or 10-oz dry beans)

• 3 1/3 cups chicken broth

• 6 ounces shredded Monterey Jack 


• 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice


Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high.

Add pork, and cook, stirring until crispy brown, 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove pork from pan and set aside. Wipe Dutch oven clean.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium. Add onion, poblano, garlic, cumin, and salt, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.

Increase heat to high. Stir in processed green chiles, beans, broth, and pork, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 40 minutes. Add cheese and lime juice, stir until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

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