“You have less than two dollars and no access to more money. Begging is illegal and the police are vigilant. How do you get food?”
Professor Oliver walked around the lecture hall passing out one dollar bills.
Frantic hands went up, questions thrown out in rapid-fire succession.
Oliver held up an unconcerned hand, waiting for quiet.
“Figure it out. You can work in groups, but the same rules apply. Be creative!”
Looking at the crumpled bills, I was at a loss to what I could buy with so little money. Well, food that I was willing to actually eat. I could afford a few packages of Ramen noodles. Maybe a box of Kraft mac’n’cheese, but I couldn’t buy any milk to make it. There definitely would be no fresh meat involved.
I thought about vegetables, but I could only really afford a single potato, or onion, maybe a carrot, a stalk or two of celery. What then?
The more I pondered the assignment, the less sure I felt that I could complete it. Looking around at my classmates, their reactions told me they were having the same thoughts.
Oliver leaned against the lectern on stage, looking over the students, a wicked smile played across his face. He was known for weeding out freshmen with these seemingly impossible projects. I was determined to not be one of his weeds.
My usual suspects gathered around me in the back of the room.
“What a crap assignment.” Ray complained, he who couldn’t force himself to eat at the quad cafe. “No one can eat on only two dollars.”
“There are six of us, that’s $12, that won’t even get us a large pizza,” Claire whined, ever the optimist, and fast food junkie. “I wonder if Oliver would let us use coupons?”
I tuned out their gripes, trying to figure out a solution that we could all agree on and one that would fill our bellies. It suddenly became eerily quiet. Looking up, I saw all five sets of eyes on me, waiting.
“What? I don’t know what we can do either, but Claire’s got a good idea of pooling our resources. We just have to figure out the best way to make it stretch.”
I wasn’t sure what they were expecting, but hearing that I had no instant solution, they all gathered up their books and left the hall.
“Can you all come by my room tonight, we can brainstorm,” I called after them, getting noncommittal grunts and waves.
Putting aside thoughts of this assignment, I had a little time before my next class, a modern culture course studying original versions of folk tales comparing them to contemporary tellings. Flipping through the textbook, I stumbled on one story that seemed prophetic… “Stone Soup.”
As I read the tale of a group of travelers who convinced townspeople at one of their stops to contribute to a communal stew pot, I had an idea, a wonderfully savory idea.
Opening up my laptop I perused one of my bookmarked cooking sites looking for just the right recipe. The next stop would be the grocery store to research whether my idea would work. I had $12, split six ways, to get what we needed – was it doable?
“I don’t like kidney beans,” Patrick made a face, shaking his head at the thought of eating the organ-shaped legumes.
“It works for me too to leave them out, I’m not crazy about kidney beans either,” I said scratching off that ingredient from our list.
“We could substitute black beans or navy beans,” Hannah added, leaning in to point at the recipe. “The extra protein would be good.”
“Black beans would be okay,” Pat nodded, agreeing to the change.
“Will we have enough money left for toppings, like cheese or sour cream,” Greg asked. “We’ve got to pimp out the chili.”
“I think any extras like that are going to be out of the budget, but after we get the soup made, based on our cost restrictions, sure pimp away,” I said, loving how enthusiastic they all were about our version of Stone Soup.“If we get store brands, look for sales, we should be good.”
Once we had the recipe worked out, each of us picked an item or two from the list. We only had our $2 to get specific ingredients. After we had everything, we’d meet back at my place to dump everything into a communal pot.
“That’s cheating! They can’t do that,” complaints were coming from all sides.
“We stayed within the perimeters. We each still only spent less than $2. We even split up the cost of the ground beef. Hannah and Ray each bought half a pound. Prof. Oliver said we could work in groups,” I said, defending our chili as legitimate.
“She’s right. I didn’t say you couldn’t pool resources, just not the money. They turned in receipts and each one spent within their budget,” Oliver stood at the front of the class, hands shoved into his front pants pockets. Shrugging away any more protests, he declared our group winners of the project.
After class I brought him a Tupperware container of chili.
“Just so you know, it actually turned out to be very tasty,” I said as I set the bowl on the lectern.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Jester Queen challenged me with “You have less than two dollars and no access to more money. Begging is illegal and the police are vigilant. How do you get food?” and I challenged DimDom with “You never know what’s going to happen when you wake up in the morning.”
I did check out ingredient costs, and there is a way to divide the list by six for under $2 each. The total cost was about $11.03 without any extra toppings. In Florida there is no sales tax on most food items, but even adding as much as 7% tax, the overall expenditure is under $12. I posted this recipe once before, slightly different here.
Easy Ranch Chili
1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
2 10 oz. cans tomatoes and chilies
2 15 oz. cans black beans, undrained
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 envelope Ranch dressing, dry mix (do not substitute bottled dressing)
In a dutch oven, brown beef and onion together, drain grease. Add in remaining ingredients, cover and simmer on low heat until heated through. Stirring occasionally. All ingredients may also be placed in a Crockpot, and simmered on low for 4-6 hours.
The longer it simmers, the more the flavors come out.
Recommended toppings: crushed corn chips, shredded cheddar cheese and/or sour cream.