BY JEFF YOUNG
Are you ready for some football? I hope so, because this month kicks off the new football season! Down herein New Orleans, I look forward to all the Saints’ games, and I admit to feeling giddy when they win. Yet, as odd as it may sound, I confess that I’m not much of a football fan.
Many of my friends are diehards. They know all the players’ names and jersey numbers. I know about three.They can quote stats — not only for the current year, but for years going back. I can quote the Bible. Or lines from The Princess Bride, or Fletch, or some other movie. Or lyrics from a couple of U2 songs. They go to as many home games as they can. I try very hard not to go to any. Still, I love game night (or day!). It provides a wonderful opportunity for connection. And connection requires us to slow down and savor.
I’ve joked with friends that my lack of football fanaticism probably goes back to a traumatic experience or two from childhood. It must, because I come from a long line of football fanatics. As a matter of fact, my dad was the starting quarterback when he was in high school. And he wanted me to love and excel at sports, too. He always encouraged me to play back-to-back football, basketball, and baseball during their respective seasons. He would attend my games and drive me to practice.
In sixth grade, along with a handful of my friends, I tried out for the tackle football team for the first time. My friends made the cut; I didn’t. At least not until my dad had a chat with the coach. He didn’t want me to know that he had talked to the coach, of course. But I knew. How else would I have made it on the team when my name wasn’t posted on the original roster? To be fair, I was small for my age. I was tiny. No— I was scrawny. And I was terrified to hit.
I still remember one practice when the coaches wanted to get us used to hitting. Somehow I got paired with the biggest, most aggressive running back on the team. The exercise was simple: the “Hulk” was supposed to run a short route designated by cones, which would lead him to me. My job was to tackle him. On the first attempt, I saw him coming at me, and I turned around and ran!
After a brusque pep talk by the coach, we lined up again for a second attempt. I still cannot tell you how it happened —maybe I was trying to dig a hole to hide in — but I somehow managed to get underneath the running back. When I stood up, I had him on my right shoulder! I was so shocked that I was still alive that I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there with a goofy look on my face…and a running back on my little shoulder!
The coach kept screaming, “Drop him! Tackle him!” I jumped forward with all my might and landed on top of the running back. Wow, I thought, I did it. I was mystified. That tackle was a good experience. But it was also a singular experience. Most of my football playing days consisted of feeling hot, sweaty, and itchy from rolling around in the grass.
That’s probably why I didn’t play football in high school. I eventually realized that it just wasn’t my thing. My dad figured that out, too. I ran track instead. I was fast. I ran the 440 relay, the 110-meter hurdles, and 100-yard dash. I also started cooking when I was in high school. I loved the kitchen. I discovered that people are drawn to the kitchen. For many families, the kitchen is the heart of the home.
And that’s why I love pro football games now even though I don’t care which team wins. The games provide a wonderful excuse to invite friends and family over to be together. They provide a platform for connection. And life is all about connection, about relationship. God calls us into relationship with himself and with each other. It’s good for us to take advantage of every opportunity to connect. Even an opportunity provided by the NFL’s schedule.
Naturally, your team won’t play every Sunday. Sometimes the game will be scheduled on Monday or Thursday nights. For us, it doesn’t matter when the Saints play. Whenever it is, we know we’ll invite friends and family to join us, and we’ll cook something delicious, like these shredded chicken tacos.
Please note that the following recipe is meant to serve a small army.
It calls for 4 pounds of chicken! If you want to prepare it for your family instead of a crowd, simply halve the recipe. It will turn out fine. Since on some weeks your team might be playing on Monday or Thursday nights, this recipe is easy to prepare in your slow cooker. Simply add all the ingredients in the morning and let it cook on low for 7 or 8 hours. And feel free to personalize the seasoning. Play around with it. If you like more cumin or don’t like cilantro, simply add more or delete. Personally, I love adding Cholula hot sauce when I make these tacos, and we always have extra chopped green onions and cilantro on hand for garnishing.
- 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
- 6 tablespoons chili powder
- 4 teaspoons ground coriander
- 3 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 can (28 ounces) petite diced tomatoes with juice
- 3 to 6 tablespoons diced pickled jalapeño peppers (to taste)
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ½ cup chopped green onions
- juice of 2 limes (or to taste)
- tortillas or taco shells of your choice (soft or hard, flour or corn)
1. Mix the chili powder, coriander, cumin, salt, and black pepper in a glass bowl. Season the chicken on both sides and then place the chicken in the bottom of your slow cooker. Depending on the size of your slow cooker, you might have to layer the chicken. Sprinkle any remaining seasoning over the top, then cover with the remaining ingredients (minus the tortillas or taco shells!).
2. Place lid on top and cook for 4 hours on high or 7 to 8 hours on low. Remove the chicken from the slow cooker to a separate bowl and shred with two forks. Alternatively, you can shred the chicken in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk. Return the chicken to the slow cooker and mix well with the liquid. Taste and add any extra seasoning you feel is necessary.
3. Serve with taco shells or tortillas, adding your favorite toppings, such as shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, diced avocado, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and even a drizzle of ranch dressing or hot sauce. Enjoy!