‘Tis the Season to Celebrate

Being a volunteer activist is hard. It has all of the frustrations of running a non-profit – lack of money, non-existent help, delayed grants, and failed political lobbying – with none of the (admittedly small) pay. Which is why even the most hard-core activists have to have a little fun sometimes.

Understanding this fundamental principle, along with the fact that we just enjoy each others’ company, Ecolocity has had a holiday party every year since we started three years ago. For the past two years, we met at The Potter’s House, a church-run but not “churchy” space that hosts music, events, local art, a small cafe, and a great Fair Trade / book store. Unfortunately, the space is far from the Metro, and was always close to closing for the night by the time we got there.

This year, as a member invited everyone to his house, we decided to go a little more intimate. Because we weren’t meeting in a public space, we chose the ultimate hippie party – a potluck. As I am a master of one-pot wonders (or as Chris teases, “vegetarian mush”), I was happy to cook up a huge batch of vegetarian chili. It was sad to use up most of the summer vegetables in our fridge, but they had to go soon, whether in chili immediately or the composter later.

Chili turned out to be the perfect choice, as almost no one else brought a main dish! Instead, we had homemade bread, sautéed kale, salad, fruit, raw apple pie(!), and homemade cookies. Someone even brought fantastic vegan cupcakes from Sticky Fingers, a local bakery whose stuff is better every time I try it. You’d have no idea their baked goods were vegan if someone didn’t tell you.

Beyond the food, there was plenty to do. We chatted about activism, especially the ongoing Occupy DC protests in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza. It was a nice mix for conversation with the regulars, a number of old hands who haven’t shown up in a while, and some new people there. Steve, our host, gave a tour of his roof, where he’s installed solar panels through a local solar co-op. I didn’t get the tour myself because I was quite involved in a game of Apples to Apples. It’s a game that people can float in and out of, creates camaraderie, and has a minimum of rules, so it was perfect for this type of party.

Overall, it was a pleasant, relaxed time with both old and new friends. When you’re wrapped up in trying to change the world, it’s sometimes difficult to remember to sit down and hang out with each other. As Ecolocity is specifically devoted to localizing and strengthening community resilience, building relationships is essential not only to the health of our organization but the very mission itself. And perhaps most importantly, these events help us remember that we aren’t here only because we believe in the cause, but also because we believe in and appreciate each other.

Vegetarian Chili
Note: This is a very flexible recipe. You can throw most summer vegetables into it or leave others out if they aren’t available.

– 2-3 tb olive oil
– 2 large chopped onions
– 4-5 chopped cloves of garlic
– 4 bell peppers – red, yellow or green
– 3 peeled and chopped carrots
– 3 chopped celery stalks
– 2 summer squash – yellow squash or zucchini
– 32-oz can of tomatoes or an equivalent amount of frozen tomatoes (you can use fresh as well, but you’ll want to peel them first)
– 1 small can tomato paste (12 tbs)
– 16 oz of cooked or canned beans – I usually do a combination of kidney and black beans. If you plan on using dried beans, you will need to soak the beans for 8-10 hours and then cook them for another hour. Beans that are cooked from dried have a richer flavor than canned beans, but canned works fine in a pinch.
– Vegetable stock as needed
Sriracha to taste for heat (Sriracha is an Asian hot sauce that in my opinion has much more depth than Tabasco. I usually use a few tablespoons.)

– Pour the olive oil into a large sauce pot and turn the stove up to medium.
– When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic. Allow them to cook on medium-low until soft and slightly brown. Salt and pepper them lightly.
– Add the peppers and allow to cook until slightly soft.
– Add the carrots and celery until it’s possible to stick a fork in the carrots. Salt and pepper lightly.
– Add the squash and cook for 5 minutes. Move on to the next step if the squash are falling apart.
– Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, beans, and Sriracha. Add salt and pepper to taste.
– Cook for another 10 minutes or whenever the flavors start to really blend together. If it tastes a little bitter, which tomatoes can do occasionally, add a pinch or two of sugar. Add vegetable stock if the chili is too thick for your taste.

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