It’s Not You, It’s Me. It’s Not Me, It’s Mercury: Vegetarian Chili Bowl

Vegetarian chili bowl (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have broken nearly everything I’ve touched this month. Not just dishes and glasses, but hard-to-break things, like nail polish bottles and candles encased in heavy, shatterproof glass. I broke the little porcelain pig that holds the toothpicks, the Bodum French press, the bottle of hot sauce, the glass of anchovies that then dripped salty fish oil all over the kitchen floor. When I was making this vegetarian chili bowl, I showered the room with little bits of TVP as the bag fumbled from my hands.

Is this just a serious case of butterfingers? Or is it something more? January has been a hard month for me. My body aches like an old tooth. I’m cranky and easy to displease. I’ve had trouble waking up in the mornings and little energy for work. All of these things have made me an incredibly pleasant person to be around.

TVP (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s especially frustrating because it’s exactly the opposite of what I want – not that anyone actively wants to be cranky and accident-prone. I’d set clear goals for myself for January, all of them designed to make me a more relaxed and easygoing individual. Read more books in the evenings, don’t use electronics before bed, don’t force yourself to keep working when the work day is done, make time for exercise, stretch in the mornings before work.

And this January, I’ve had about a 25% success rate for meeting my goals. When I manage to wake up without hitting the snooze button four times, I stretch – sometimes. When I don’t devolve into playing Hay Day on the couch at night, I read – sometimes. I’m more enticed by Facebook’s endless scroll than I’ve ever been, and the thought of addressing the email situation makes me feel like I’m willingly signing up to be Sisyphus.

Vegetarian chili bowl with avocado and lime (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Onions and spices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I realize it’s boring to listen to someone complain about their lack of productivity and general slobbish ennui. I also realize that this is my least favorite way to be – which makes me especially prone to whining about it.

At about the crux of January’s misery, when I was just so utterly confused at how all my best intentions refused to jump out of their rut, I gave up and read my horoscope. Maybe I’d find that it wasn’t my fault, that I could blame it all on some celestial body. What a relief it would be for Susan Miller to tell me in her calming prose, “I know this month has felt rough, but don’t despair, dear Gemini. Things will pick up soon.” And what a relief it was, when Susan told me Mercury’s been in retrograde, that we poor Geminis are especially prone to its ill will because it hits us where we feel it most – our strengths.

Not that not breaking things is a particular strength of mine.

Chili with kidney beans, black beans and TVP (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A lonely measuring spoon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Mercury affects our ability to communicate and make plans. We feel muddled and confused. It’s hard to find motivation or creativity for new projects. Sing it, Susan!

Being able to blame Mercury was like finally knowing who to fight. Like hearing the doctor name your mystery illness. It’s hard to beat a ghost when you can’t see what angle he’s punching from.

I realize there’s not much worse than listening to me complain about my lack of productivity and general slobbish ennui than listening to me blame it all on Mercury.

This is thankfully the last day of January, and I can already feel the angry slump begin to lift. I’ve been trying to glass-half-full situations, like thinking of all the TVP that tastily made it into the vegetarian chili bowl instead of dwelling on all the bits that landed on the floor. I am embracing the frequent napping in anticipation of a February in which a trip to Georgia (the country) and the Berlinale film festival will keep me from sleep. And I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to really work towards getting to Level 42 on the farm. I almost have enough money saved to buy the Coffee Kiosk, and if that’s not moving forward, I don’t know what is.

Vegetarian chili bowl for a winter's day (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Vegetarian Chili Bowl
In Germany, TVP is called “Soy Schnitzel,” which sounds so insanely unappetizing I don’t even know where to begin. Then again, “textured vegetable protein” sounds about as tasty as eating chopped up car tires. So, take your pick of terrible terminology, but try it out nonetheless. It’s an excellent meat substitute that generously takes on the taste of whatever it’s cooked in, while lending a meaty mouthfeel to dishes like chili. Dried TVP is sold in the organic section of most good grocery stores. Serves 4.

2 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium-sized yellow onions, chopped
Pinch of sugar
1 cup TVP (textured vegetable protein)
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. ancho chili powder
½ tsp. salt
Healthy dash of cayenne pepper
1 can diced tomatoes in sauce
1 can kidney beans
1 can black beans
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 head of iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
Grated cheddar cheese, to serve
Sliced green onions, to serve
Sour cream, to serve
Sliced avocado, to serve
Lime wedges, to serve

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over high heat, then add onions and sugar and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add TVP, oregano, cumin, ancho chili powder, salt, and cayenne, and stir to coat. Add tomatoes, both cans of beans, and garlic along with 1 can of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Place some shredded iceberg lettuce at the bottom of each bowl. Cover with a generous serving of chili, and top with cheddar cheese, green onion, sour cream, and avocado. Finish with a squeeze of lime juice.



  1. Laurel Cohen says:

    You’ll love the coffee kiosk! You can almost taste the yummy drinks you will be making!

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