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I just had to share with someone…

I haven't seen the top of my desk in six months

I haven't seen the top of my desk in six months

And yes, that is a mint julep.

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Hobo Tuesday–er, Wednesday: Veggie Chili

So, I know it’s not Tuesday anymore, but a perfect storm of circumstances prevented me from writing this up yesterday.  Actually, I can’t believe it’s been a month since I beat the pants off everyone in my first ever Tight-Ass Tuesday Challenge.  Michelle at Thursday Night Smackdown hosts this monthly challenge in which we all try to cook the cheapest meal possible–a maximum of $5 for two people (or $10 for 4).  Official rules are here.  Last month, I stole the smugness prize, and am out for blood this month!

Since I won (sorry, did I mention that I won?) the July picnic challenge, I got to pick the theme for August.  I figured that the hottest month of the year deserved a little competition, and challenged everyone to bring on the spice.  A little out of season, perhaps, but I’ve read somewhere that the reason people who live in tropical climates tend to have spicier foods is because eating hot things actually helps cool your body off.  Anyway, I digress, so without further ado, I give you my submission for this month’s Hobo Tuesday: Vegetarian Chili and Cornbread.

DSCN0187

please ignore the less-than-clean bowl; I forgot to take a picture until round 2

I would just like to say for the record that, technically, this meal was 100% free.  Not just because everything I used came straight from the pantry, but because I didn’t pay to get them there in the first place.  I helped a friend move last week, and in exchange she let me take home most of her food–including all the fixin’s necessary for this meal.  In the interests of fair play, though, I made a special trip to the grocery store to price the things I didn’t consider actual pantry items, so, you know, other people had a shot at beating me.

First things first–everything I used:

DSCN0160In case you can’t make out the spices, it’s cumin, red pepper flakes, chili powder, hot chili powder, and sage.  I also threw in a shitload of black pepper and quite a bit of salt, too.  I started by chopping and browning the onion and two cloves of garlic in some olive oil, and then threw the spices in the hot pan towards the end, just to toast them a bit.  I would estimate about a tablespoon each of the cumin and chili powders, a pinch of sage, and a whole palmful of the red pepper flakes.

yes, I did use that much chili powder--got a problem with that?

yes, I did use that much chili powder--got a problem with that?

Meanwhile, drain and rinse the black beans and kidney beans, and toss them in the pot with the large can of tomatoes.  At this point I also usually add a can of beer (which, in my house, can most definitely be considered a pantry staple!), but we were out so I settled for about a cup of water.  I also threw in a bit of extra salt and a couple of tablespoons of black pepper to compensate for the lack of flavor.  Add in the onion/spice mixture and de-seeded green chile (we’re going for the hot factor here).  Finally, I added about half a bag of frozen corn, and let it simmer on the stove while I baked the corn bread.

DSCN0176

I cheated on the cornbread, and my granny would just die if I found out.  But the boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix are super cheap (3/$1!), very fast, and I actually prefer the cornbread they make to many homemade versions.

a mix, an egg, and 1/3 cup of milk--can't get any easier than that!

a mix, an egg, and 1/3 cup of milk--can't get any easier than that!

Et viola!  You have yourself a bowl of chili!  Extra cheap, extra easy, and extra spicy, complete with a corn muffin to wash it down.

On to the nitty gritty details:

5-alarm Vegetarian Chili: (makes 4 servings)

1 med. Onion–pantry staple

2 cloves garlic–pantry staple

1 Tbsp. ground cumin–pantry staple

2 Tbsp. chili powder (mixture of regular and hot)–pantry staple

1/4 cup (or to taste) red pepper flakes–pantry staple

1 can Black Beans–$0.69

1 can Dark Red Kidney Beans–$0.69

1 large can diced tomatoes–$1.19

1 green chile, de-seeded and diced–from garden

1/2 bag of Frozen Corn–$1.29/2 = $0.65

1 c. water

Salt and Black Pepper to taste.

Brown onions and garlic over med-high heat; add in spices and stir briefly.  Add to large pot with drained beans and undrained tomatoes.  Add water (or beer, if you have it) and salt and pepper.  Add chile and frozen corn; let simmer 10-15 minutes or until corn is cooked (or cornbread comes out of the oven).

Corn Muffins:

1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix–$0.33

1 egg–pantry staple

1/3 c. milk–pantry staple

follow directions on back of box.

And the grand total comes to… $3.55!  That breaks down to $0.89/person.  We’ll see how that measures up to my competition…good luck everyone!

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Meet Argentina

Don't let the cuteness fool you: he is nothing but trouble

Don't let the cuteness fool you: he is nothing but trouble

This little bundle of trouble will probably crop up occasionally on the blog, so I thought I’d go ahead and get introductions out of the way.  Argentina, Internet.  Internet, Argentina.  Argentina is lazy, aloof, and absolutely adorable: in other words, a cat.  I’m slowly training him to be a lap cat, but for right now the corner of my desk is about as close as we can get.

Can you tell he belongs to a grad student?

Can you tell he belongs to a grad student?

Wanna know why his name is Argentina?  Well, see, Argentina loves the great outdoors.  This is his favorite hobby:

Also known in some circles as "fluffbutt"

Also known in some circles as "fluffbutt"

Argentina loves the great outdoors.  Loves. It. Wants to be a part of it so badly that he’ll sit at the windows for hours and chatter with the birds.  Sometimes the urge to go outside is so consuming that he will sit by the door and howl unconsolably.  This prompts a rousing rendition of “Don’t Cry For Me…”, hence the name.  I guess that makes me Eva Peron.  Or Madonna, but I think I prefer Eva.

Since he is quite insistent on his desire to explore the Great Outdoors, and I am equally insistent that the Great Outdoors in Baltimore is nothing more than a back alley with rats bigger than him (and he ain’t small), we’ve had to compromise.

Crazy Cat Lady? Oh Yeah. I'm there.

Crazy Cat Lady? Oh Yeah. I'm there.

I think he’s happy.  I’m happy. The neighbors get a good laugh.  What more can you ask for?

I wish I had this life.

I wish I had this life.

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Staycation

A few years ago, I had an internship at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot. I also spent many a lunch hour out on the Mall amongst the tourists and the monuments. But eventually, my lunch became more interesting than the memorials, and the tourists with cameras were more annoying than the pigeons. It’s a shame, really, because they (the monuments, not the pigeons) really are pretty cool. I know it would be more interesting to have pictures of a trip to Australia or Bermuda, but in case you haven’t picked up a newspaper lately, we’re in the middle of a recession. So I opted for a “staycation” this year. I took the day off work yesterday, grabbed my camera and my socks to wear under my sandals, and rode the train into DC for a touristy diversion.

In the interests of being as touristy as possible, I started with the Mall. We have the Washington Monument:

This isn’t the original Washington Monument, you know. There’s one in Baltimore—not quite as tall, but designed by the same architect—that was erected several decades earlier than this one. You may be able to see a line in the picture where the color of the blocks changes; that’s where construction was stopped for about thirty years during the turmoil of the Civil War and ensuing national financial woes.

Then we have the War memorials: first, World War II and then Vietnam.

Both are beautiful monuments, but I dislike the World War II memorial, because it seems like it’s more of a celebration of victory than a reminder of the tragedies that wars cause. There’s something about walking along an endless wall of thousands of names, each name attached to a family that suffered a loss because of a war. It is both simple and profound—there’s no sound of water to drown out your thoughts, no quotes to read that suggest the necessity for the destruction of war, no statues that celebrate the involvement of troops from all states and on two fronts. Just a list of names, your thoughts, and glimpses of your somber reflection juxtaposed against all those names, begging you to never let something like this happen again. Revisiting the memorials through the eyes of a tourist helped me remember that.

Now, on to happier thoughts, shall we? How about…Dinosaurs!

Or Flowers!

These orchids are from the Botanical Gardens, a new find for me. It’s right next to the Capitol Building, and has plants from many different climates from all over the world. If flowers (or ecological imperialism) are your thing, you should totally check it out.

And finally, Art!

Can you guess what this is? It’s one of my favorites, tucked into a back corner of the National Gallery of Art. Here’s another hint:

Give up?

It’s Seascape at Port-en-Bassin, Normandy, and, like Seurat’s more famous A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, is an example of pointillism, which I find fascinating. It makes me want to pick up a paintbrush and start experimenting. Maybe I, too, will define an iconic artistic movement. Or not. Baby steps, people.

That wraps up my whirlwind tourist experience. There’s only so much you can cram into one day.  Twelve hours wandering around the Mall with a camera around my neck left me feeling more cultured. And more sunburnt. If I were truly a granny, I would have remembered the sunscreen, right? Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

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