January is the time of year I most think about my old boss, Lyle Ball. She was the wife of Jim Ball, owner of Picker’s Paradise, the guitar store I’ve worked at for the past 17 years and owned for the past two.

Jim was a crackerjack repairman who set the bar high for the region, and a good businessman, while Lyle was more of an expert at customer service; by that I mean she could wrangle the lunatics that came through the door. In a music store, you see plenty of those.

Lyle was a faithful follower of Paul “Bear” Bryant, Glenfiddich and cherry cordials, the latter two I gifted her on birthdays and Christmas. She was my buddy, for sure, and of all the people she loved, I felt I was one of them. I miss her like family. But she didn’t seem to be much of a cook.

Along with Jim, their combined weight might not have broken two bills, so she didn’t have the passion for eating that the rest of us had, but she picked her battles. The one thing she taught me about in the kitchen was Cincinnati chili.

“What’s that like?” I asked, ignorantly thinking it must be some Yankee way of churching up one of my favorite winter foods.

“You’ll see. It’s got cinnamon in it,” she said as she raised her eyebrows.


It took me a bowl or two to really get into it, because it isn’t at all like the chili we normally make. Cincinnati chili does use ground beef, a bit of tomato paste, chili powder and cumin, but it goes a little bit further. Along with cinnamon and allspice, cumin and sometimes even cloves are used in the seasoning. It got the name chili only because of its resemblance. It was originally designed in the 1920s as a spaghetti topping, called “two ways,” the way Lyle served it.


2 pounds ground beef
Water to cover
12-ounce can tomato paste
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
½-ounce unsweetened baking chocolate
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Cover the meat with water in a large skillet over high heat. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for about an hour to an hour and a half or until the sauce thickens.

Since you are not browning the meat, another method to reduce the fat is to cook the meat in the water ahead of time, chill, then discard the hardened fat.

The “ways” are similar to our Waffle House “scattered, smothered, covered” routine. You could simply eat the chili by itself or on a hot dog.

“Two ways” is the chili over spaghetti.

“Three ways” is chili, spaghetti, cheese.

“Four ways” is chili, spaghetti, cheese and onions.

“Five ways” is chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions and beans.

Four ways is the best, but you have to try it on a Coney, too! Miss Lyle loved it that way from time to time.