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Visits to Costco have always filled me with a special horror. My horror is not vague and unspecified; I have several particular grievances.

1) I wander around for hours, yet never find what I came for. Despite the fact that each store has dozens of aisles with shelves about a thousand feet high, there aren’t any signs to let you know where things are.

2) I am not personally acquainted with anyone there, nor will I ever be. It’s the opposite of “everyone knows my name”–no one even vaguely recognizes me.

3) Quantity is glorified at the expense of quality, and the terms “local” or “sustainable” might as well not exist. In general I think the U.S. (and the developed world) could do with a lot less prepared foods, and Costco is a warehouse packed floor to ceiling with just that.

4) Ugh, suburbia. The parking lot is enormous and packed with SUVs.

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Despite all this, a friend recently got a membership, and I have actually been to Costco three times in the last two months. Two of those occasions may be excused–I needed to acquire massive amounts of food for some school events on a strict budget.

The third trip… well… peer pressure. Ok fine, not peer pressure! I just wanted a big block of cheese! Is that so wrong?

Each trip was as unpleasant as I expected: hordes of people, unwieldy giant shopping carts, disgustingly large bags of Doritos… HOWEVER. It would be disingenuous not to rave about some of my purchases. I have to admit that I was ecstatic about my 3-pound block of aged cheddar and 4.5 pound bag of chocolate chips. There are some things that I really do consume in unreasonable quantities.

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I couldn’t resist the 6-packs of cans of black beans and chickpeas, either. I’ve been eating all the homemade hummus I can handle, which turns out to be a lot. I’ve also made my favorite black bean soup twice, and that’s what I’m going to tell you about today.

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I love this recipe because it’s incredibly simple: I almost always have the ingredients on hand. Nevertheless, it has tons of flavor. Before I tried this soup, my ideal black bean soup was thick, goopy, and dark. This one is none of those, but it makes my belly happy on cold winter days. Don’t skip the yogurt or lime juice–they’re totally essential.

Um, did I mention the Costco 5-pack of avocados? Some guacamole might have snuck in to some of my soup pictures. Some day I’ll rant about my guacamole opinions, but not today.

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Just one more thing–let me brag about my new enameled cast-iron pot. It’s red! It’s pretty! I’ve been longing for one of these ever since I moved out of the mansion and lost access to Laura’s Le Creusets. My new pot is no Le Creuset, but for the bargain price of $40 (Thanks, Marshall’s!), I’m already seriously attached to it.

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Black Bean Soup

Adapted from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 good fistful of cilantro, stems separated from leaves, both chopped (interpret “fistful” according to your own fondness for cilantro–I doubt you could overdo it)
1 tablespoon ground cumin (or chili powder, if you prefer)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water, or a combination
1 28-0z. can black beans (or about 3 cups cooked beans), drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lime
Plain yogurt

1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium high heat, then add the onions. Cook, stirring, until the onions are soft.

2. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, chopped cilantro stems, and cumin. Cook, stirring for a minute or two.

3. Stir in the broth or water, beans, and salt and peper. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down to low, just enough to maintain some bubbling. Cover loosely and cook for 20 minutes or so.

4. Use a hand blender to puree the soup until it’s as smooth as you want it. I like to leave it a little chunky. If you don’t have a hand blender, you can use a potato masher (the soup will be pretty chunky). You can also use a blender to puree it in batches.

5. Stir in the lime juice and chopped cilantro leaves. (Save some cilantro for garnish if you want it to look pretty).

6. Serve each bowl of soup with a spoonful or two of plain yogurt. You can also pass extra lime juice and cilantro at the table.

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P.S. Do my pictures look extra snazzy? I finally got a tripod! Now the pictures from my dark kitchen don’t come out a tiny bit blurry.

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