Sunday, December 23, 2007

Winter Storms

We got another storm hit yesterday. We have experienced a large number of ice storms recently, and we are too far north to have so many ice storms, so last night I watched An Inconvenient Truth while the rain fell all day long. Then overnight the temperatures dropped dramatically and we got four inches of snow. The snowdrifts are very beautiful, but it's dangerously cold outside, about 10 degrees Fahrenheit with a 30 mph wind making the wind chill about 20 below.

The snow plows didn't get to work on our parking lot until around 9 a.m., and I waited patiently inside and watched my 20-something neighbors become impatient waiting for the plows to finish clearing the snow. It appears that most of my neighbors do not own snow shovels; they just drive over the snow. Unfortunately, not all of them are bright enough to figure out that you can't simply drive over a foot-high snow drift if you don't have snow tires.

Most recently, I watched a little car get stuck in the snow with the parents and baby inside; the man of the house emerged from the vehicle with a window ice scraper in his hand, and he stamped through the snow and surveyed the area trying to figure out how to get the car loose. I envisioned him digging his car out with the ice scraper, but he didn't try it. They sat there until the snowplow came.

I find it difficult to imagine not owning a snow shovel at this latitude. My dad is a farmer and insists upon proper winter safety precautions. In my car I keep a blanket, a small snow shovel, a 60-pound bag of sand, and a spare pair of ski gloves.

It used to be that Iowans knew how to drive on ice and snow, but nowadays the ditches fill up with cars every time there's bad weather. After storms I pass an average of one stranded vehicle every other mile on my way to and from work. We are all becoming so urban.

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Cheap Eats

I spent altogether too much time in graduate school. Now that I am gainfully employed, I still keep to a daily budget that is very similar to what it was in grad school, but I spend extra on having a nice place to live, subscribing to cable, and furnishings and the occasional clothing item that I would not have been able to splurge on in grad school.

I still eat very cheaply. I'm now volunteering at the local food pantry, and looking around at their stocks of food reminded me of all kinds of things I've made to eat. I never eat Ramen; I eat a variety of cheap food that offers a greater variety of tastes. The food pantry keeps a book of recipes, and I submitted four of mine to them. Here's one I made up a couple years ago.

Refried Bean Casserole

leftover tortilla chips
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
either: one can of Ro-Tel tomatoes, drained a little
or: small can of mild green chilies, drained, with 1 can of diced tomatoes, drained a little
or: one fresh jalapeno, with 1 can of diced tomatoes, drained a little
1 can of refried beans
grated cheese (Mexican "queso" or Jack cheese is good)
salsa, green or red

1. Oil a large casserole dish.
2. Pour the tortilla chips into a big bowl and pick out the unbroken ones. Take the broken ones and crumble them into the casserole dish to line the bottom.
3. Saute the onion in oil for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and jalapeno if using them. Saute until the onion is soft. Then turn the heat off and stir in the canned ingredients: chiles if used, tomatoes, and refried beans. Stir well. Pour this mixture into the casserole dish and spread it around evenly. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
4. Take the reserved whole tortilla chips and arrange them around the edges of the casserole so they form a ridge. Form a decorative pattern in the center using some of the chips.
5. Cover the surface of the casserole with as much cheese as you want. Drizzle salsa on top in a zigzag pattern. Bake until the cheese browns slightly.