Sunshine on My Shoulders . . .

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I have a sort-of free day (meaning that I worked day shift yesterday and I work night shift tonight), so I’m currently lazing my day away on the front porch in the old Papasan chair my best friend gave me when she moved 900 miles away (*sniffle*).  I have a big, fat Stephen King book I can’t seem to put down (but, then, I never can seem to put down any good book).  It’s breezy, it’s partly cloudy, and it’s not too hot (yet).  The crew renovating the apartments behind my house seem to be done with the really loud demo work.  It’s summer break at the university, so no one’s around to bother me.  I’ll be watching the season finale of Glee once it finishes downloading to my phone.  I’m drinking a homemade lemon shake-up.  The dog is soaking up sunshine, chasing twigs and leaves around the yard, and warning off any errant birds (cardinals, mostly) who have the affrontery to land in her trees and take baths in her gutters.  I’m exchanging a series of gramatically-correct and perfectly-spelled* text messages with the aforementioned best friend, because that’s just the kind of people we are – Geek Pride!  I have mushrooms in the fridge that are going to become garlic butter mushrooms with capers and lemon, and then I will most likely eat them all, because when you live alone, you don’t have to share anything you don’t want to (betcha couldn’t tell I’m an only child, could ya?).

Now, if I could just keep reminding myself that there’s no reason to be terrified of the random bumblebees who occasionally meander into my line of sight, and remember that they respond much better to polite requests to go play somewhere else than they do to shrieks and throwing of books and/or water bottles (betcha couldn’t tell I’m just a leeeeetle afraid of things with stingers, could ya?), it would be divinely perfect.

*I just know I’m going to find some glaring grammar or spelling error in this post in a couple of weeks, because I’m writing this on my phone and I can’t figure out how to turn off the stupid Autocorrect.  (Edit: Apparently, Android’s Autocorrect does not contain the words “capers” or “stingers”.  Yet.)

I Swear, I Will Sell Your Child to Carnies

AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

(Ok, I feel a little better now that I got that out of my system.)

I appears that we’re due for another installment of our “Adventures in Hospitality” series, prompted by today’s events at my hotel.

Traveling with Groups of Children

-or-

Heck, I’ll Give ‘Em to the Carnies if it Gets Them Out of My Lobby

Don’t get me wrong, I do like children.  Most children.  I even like the age that nobody else does — the middle-schooler.  But any veteran of the public school wars will tell you that children are at their best when their parents have taught them basic manners and how to use their indoor voices.

We never get these kids.  Instead, we get the kids whose parents seem to think it’s all right to get them hopped up on Gatorade (or, heaven forbid, Mountain Dew) and turn them loose to roam the building, running sprints on my stairways (which, sadly, seems to do the opposite of tiring them out), knocking on random doors in the middle of the night, trying any number of imaginative ways to get into my business center, fitness center, and pool unaccompanied by an adult, doing the Ickey Shuffle or Riverdancing or dropping bowling balls in their rooms, and holding luggage cart races in my parking lot.  And, when confronted with the misdeeds of their Precious Darlings, the parents, squinting at us through beer goggles or the fog of hangover (depending on the time of day), can nearly always be counted on to take one or more of the following positions: 1) “My child would never do that,” 2) “Isn’t it your JOB to keep the hallways quiet — I mean, that’s what I pay you for,” 3) “Well, it’s stupid that you won’t let him [insert misdeed here] — that’s a dumb policy,” 4) “Well, they’re just kids,” 5) “Other people are too sensitive,” and/or the kicker, 6) “It’s not my fault you don’t have anything for them to do here.”

But they won’t actually do anything about it.

Well, that’s not true.  They’ll fly all over me like brown on rice when I kick their 11 of their monsters out of the computer room, or use my best former-middle-school-teacher-death-ray-stare-and-slightly-raised-voice to advise their future jailbirds that there will be dire consequences if they continue to practice penalty kicks in the vending area, or if I (gasp) require “please” and “thank you” before turning over any item requested at the front desk (seriously, people, do you not have toothbrushes?), because how dare I try to raise their child for them?  The only thing I can do at this point is to explain my position — that it is not my intention to embarrass them (the parents or the kids), and I am truly sorry if I have done so, but I am responsible for ensuring the comfort of all the guests in my hotel, whether or not they are participating in the same event as your group, and when anything occurs to disrupt that comfort, it is my job to identify the source of that disruption and stop it, involving parents and/or coaches if necessary (and, on one memorable occasion, a scare visit by a sympathetic police officer).  As well, unattended children running around a hotel are a huuuuuge safety risk — the days of blithely trusting our neighbors are long gone, and nobody, not even me, knows what type of person is staying in the room next door.  I don’t even want to think of what would happen if little Dakota was snatched up by a pedophile simply because he was unattended and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I also don’t even want to think of what would happen if little Dakota looks me square in the sternum and tells me one more time that I can’t tell him what to do, because there’s always carnies staying at the no-tell down the street, and I’m pretty sure I can convince them that they’re looking for miniature ride operators or weight guessers.  I’m persuasive like that.

So, please, parents of the world, especially sports parents of the world, teach your children well/their hotel manager’s hell/will slowly go by . . .

Signed,

The Woman Behind the Desk with 2 Hours and 14 Minutes to Go

Fun at the Store

Curry Tacos?  I think I’ve got an idea for a show on fusion cuisine!

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Macho?  Well, at least they got right to the point!

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Does anyone else find something  . . . um . . . odd . . . about the ear of corn in the middle?

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During late spring every year, ducks take over our parking lots!

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In a world gone mad, isn’t it nice to know that Little Golden Books still survive?

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If I’m spending 15 bucks on a chunk of (frankly, not awesome-looking) meat, someone had better be cooking it for me.  With sides.  And beer.

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I’m almost tempted to buy it just to keep on the mantel, like my can of spotted dick, but that would mean perpetuating this crime against nature!

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And I, child of the countryside, grew up believing puffball mushrooms were poisonous!

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These regal grapes were spotted just one day before The Wedding of the Millennium.  Way to cash in!

To provide some background, I’m afraid of persimmons.  The Homestead has a persimmon tree in the front yard which likes to throw its hard little fruit at us.  All.  Summer.  Long.  They’re not edible (we tried), they dent our cars (seriously), they lay on the ground and rot faster than we can rake them up and get stuck in our shoe treads, they smell like baby poo, and when they’ve decayed sufficiently, the butterflies come and feed on them and weave drunkenly around our yard and get trapped in our cars and try to land on our heads (which is not really as magical as it sounds).  So, to see a persimmon the size of my fist next to a pineapple (which I love) bred to one-third its regular size was more than a little disconcerting.  For perspective, look at the nice, regular-sized bananas in the background.  I emailed this to my mom later that day with the subject line “Mummy, I’m afraid of the fruit . . .”.

Gettin’ Sweaty in the Kitchen

In the book Divine Secrets of the Ha-Ya Sisterhood, Vivi talks about how she can practically taste good sleep, like a perfect BLT (exact wording may vary, as I’m too lazy to pull out the book right now).  I couldn’t agree more.  I’m coming off a four-night stretch of night shifts, which doesn’t sound so bad until you consider that my body is only used to two at a time, and I’m still working other shifts the rest of the time.  I don’t know whether I’m supposed to be asleep or awake, and I have no will for . . . anything.

Anything except cooking, that is.  And not just any kind of cooking, but Cooking Unnecessarily Involved Dishes That Seem Simple And Quick Until I’m Past The Point of No Return And Probably Shouldn’t Have Been Undertaken In A Kitchen Without Air Conditioning.  Best way to waste an afternoon.  Also one of the sweatiest that does not require nakedness.  But, hey, it cleaned out the fridge.

Apparently, good sleep tastes like Pasta Primavera.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Primavera

* 1 6-8 ounce package sliced mushrooms
* 1 Red bell pepper, sliced into strips (it would be good if you used one that was just this side of wrinkly, just like I did)
* 1 Medium-largish onion, halved and sliced medium thin.
* 3 Carrots, peeled and sliced into into strips
* 3 Small zucchini, peeled and sliced into thin strips (or the good parts of 3 medium zucchini that were also just this side of wrinkly)
* 1 Head of garlic, prepared for roasting
* Olive oil
* Salt and pepper
* 1 12 ounce package of spinach fettuccine
* About 1/2 cup of prepared pesto
* About 1/2 cup of half-and-half (cream would have been better, but I didn’t have any)
* Parmesan, the kind you grate yourself.

* Heat the oven to 450.
* In the biggest bowl you own, toss the vegetables with the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Don’t be stingy!  Divide the veggies between two baking sheets and pop in the oven along with the garlic (since my oven is really small, I just popped the garlic in its little foil packet right on one of the baking sheets).
* Roast until the vegetables are as tender as you’d like – I prefer mine fairly soft but not squishy – and lightly browned around the edges.  30 minutes is a good guideline.  Stir and switch the pans from upper to lower rack every 10 minutes are so.  If the garlic is not done (quite squishy and fragrant), reduce the oven temperature to 350-ish and let it finish cooking while everything else finishes.
* When the vegetables are almost done, start the pasta.  I kept the veggies warm by consolidating them to one dish and using it as a lid for the pasta pot.
* When the pasta is done, fish it out with a pasta server or tongs and add it to the veggies.  (Or drain it, reserving  some cooking water.)  If the baking dish is not deep enough to add the pasta and have room to stir, use the big-ass bowl you used earlier.
* When the garlic is done, carefully remove it from its paper into a small bowl and mash with a fork, adding some of the reserved pasta water to make a runny garlic paste.
* Add the garlic, pesto, and half-and-half, a little more salt and pepper, and some grated parmesan.  Toss together and taste.  If it’s too thick, add a little of the pasta water to thin it out.  Adjust seasonings as needed.
* Enjoy!  Possibly with a bit more parmesan on top.

I recommend making this for more than one person, because it makes a metric ton of yuminess that I suspect won’t save more than a couple of days.  Also, it would benefit from some lemon juice, to break up the richness.

And, as the final dish was not really photogenic, especially not with a camera phone, I instead include a photo of my kitchen supervisor, Erida, without whose expert guidance I’m sure I could not produce a single kitchen success.

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To My Badass Mother

(My thanks to Uncle Henry for scanning a ton of old photos and putting them on a CD several years ago, because I just realized I don’t have any good digital photos of my mom.  I do, however, have a ton of pictures of the back of her head, or her shoulder, or her left earlobe.  She’s really good at ducking cameras.)

To the marvelous lady who:

  • Taught me to walk properly in high heels (and that only trashy girls walk on their toes while in heels).
  • Tried to teach me to dance (epic fail, by the way).
  • Nearly got into a fistfight defending my honor during a middle school football game.
  • Let me wear the abovepictured dress as a Halloween costume.
  • Gives the world’s greatest back rubs.
  • Escaped a dysfunctional, abusive family, and as a result, never once spanked, slapped, or otherwise corporally punished me.
  • Brought me up to love animals, children, and Frosted Mini Wheats.
  • And a million other things, every day.
Thanks!
Oh, yeah, and thanks for that whole birth thing, too!

Daylight Come and Me Wan’ Go Home

I’ve been working 2-3 night shifts per week for a couple of weeks now, and a profound dearth of qualified applicants means I’ll probably be doing this for some time to come.  I don’t mind the occasional night shift – it gives me time to catch up on my hulu-ing or reading or trying to beat the Super Mario simulator on my phone, and I can usually squeeze in some free or reduced-price laundry.  Besides, I started out at each of my hotels as a night auditor before being promoted – two years at my first, three months at my second, and a little over a year at my current – so its not exactly unfamiliar territory.  But I’m a trifle elderly now, and I’m still working day shifts the rest of the week.  I don’t bounce back and forth quite like I used to.  And it confuses the heck out of the dog.  (Admittedly not a remarkable accomplishment.)

But, hey, I got an obscene phone call right around midnight – brightened my whole evening!

Must sleep now.  I think I’m going to be a bad Kentuckian and miss the Derby for the first time in my memory.  But, who knows? Maybe my subconscious will wake me up anyway!

Edit: I actually did wake up in time to see both the Derby and the end of Justin Verlander’s no-hitter!

How to Make a Hotel Reservation

Since I’ve talked to about 416000 people today who seem to need a primer in reservation-making, I’ve decided to make a handy-dandy checklist!

Dates – Decide what dates you will be visiting.  This is the first question we will ask you, and it’s a waste of time if you call us and don’t know.  Even if you are coming to the McGillicuddy/Jingleheimer-Schmidt wedding, you still need to tell us when you are staying.

History – Have you stayed with us before?  In many cases, we can speed up your reservation considerably if we look up your history and see what type of room you most often stay in, and if you qualify for any discounts.

Occupants – Know the size of your party, and be honest with us about it.  It’s a violation of fire laws to stuff 27 people in a room with one bed.  Besides, if the building (heaven forbid) does get blown over in a tornado, we kinda need to know how many people we need to include in our head count.  Also, when we’re planning schedules and supply orders, we need to know how many people (and how many adults vs. kids) we’ll be feeding and cleaning up after.

Room Types – Please have a vague idea of what type of room you’ll need — I’m not saying you need to be familiar with the 13 (true story) different types of rooms I have to offer, but you should know if you’ll need one bed or two, smoking or non, a kitchenette, or a pet-friendly or ADA-accessible room.  Please convey this to the reservationist at the beginning of your conversation.

  • Please do not flip out when I do not have what you need, either because it doesn’t exist on our property or someone else beat you to it.  Simply say something like, ” Oh, I’m sorry to hear that — do you have any recommendations that might work for me?”  Also, it will curry no favor with us if your response to “I’m sorry, but we are fully booked for that date” is a snottily-delivered “Well, I can’t believe you’re sold out — I mean, nothing ever happens in that rinky-dink town.”  Those of us who choose to live here do not consider it rinky-dink (and are insulted by the charge), and chances are, if you have a reason to come here and stay, others do, too.
  • If you wanted a non-smoking room, but all we have available are smoking rooms, this is not the time to treat the desk agent to a diatribe about how smoking is a vile, dirty habit and should be outlawed in all indoor spaces, even private property, and how you just don’t understand why we don’t make all of our rooms smoke-free, and on and on and on.  This only makes me want to take up smoking, and it will not actually gain you anything.  We keep a limited number of smoking rooms for our guests who, you know, smoke.  Smokers travel, too.  Just let us advise you of your options, and if none of those work for you, simply say “no, thank you,” and go on about your business.

Rates – If you are part of a group or corporation that has a special rate with us, or a member of an organization that typically gets you a hotel discount (AAA/CAA, AARP, Sam’s Club, active duty or retired military, etc), please tell us.  We are not mind readers, and it only wastes time if we quote a rate and you then say “but is that the Senior rate?”

  • On a slight tangent, please understand that being a school secretary does not qualify you for the state government rate, unless you are traveling on state government business and some entity connected to the state government is paying for your room.
  • If you find a cheaper competing rate online, make sure you are honestly entering the same dates, rates, and occupancy you have just told us, and also be prepared to give us the exact site information so that we can verify it — if we can’t verify it, we can’t beat it.  And, if you choose to book online through any site other than the hotel-specific brand website, understand that there could be serious restrictions on that booking — often, you do not get to choose the type of room you’re booking, you have no flexibility in dates, and you have no ability to cancel the reservation without penalty.  In addition, if you had called us and asked, I can give you a 99% guarantee we would have beaten that rate, because when you book with one of those third party sites (which shall remain nameless but are often represented by William Shatner, a garden gnome, or claymation office workers), we only get about 50-60% of what you pay them, and then, out of what we do get, we have to turn around and pay commission fees to them and booking fees to the distribution channel.  Half the time, we might as well have paid you to stay here.
  • Remember that, within reason, unless we are dealing with a special event or other sold-out time, rates are usually negotiable.  If the quoted rate does not work for you, don’t be afraid to ask if there are any specials or if a different type of room may be more economical.  Ask politely!  Saying something like “Good God, is that the best you can do?” will not get you anything other than a standard 10% discount (if it gets you anything at all), whereas if you had asked politely, you might find out that we’re willing to compromise if you are (for instance, if you’re trying to book a single room, and I only have a few of them to sell, but I have lots of double rooms to sell, we would be willing to offer a steeper discount on the double room because we have more of them).

Special Requests – If you have severe allergies or sensitivities, please let us know ahead of time so we can appropriately plan your room — if you don’t tell us, you might wind up in a pet room on a floor with smoking rooms, and, depending on how busy we are, we may not be able to rectify that.  The same goes for requests for ground floor, or rooms near an entrance, or if you’re traveling with Betty Jo and cannot bear to be farther away than next door to her, even for the time you’re asleep in bed.  Tell us in advance!

Contact Information – Yes, I really do need your address and phone number.  I promise, I won’t sell it to anyone, or keep it for personal use.  But there are times when I may need to contact you prior to your arrival (for instance, we once had to take a couple of our rooms out of commission for a couple of weeks during a very busy summer season due to a small flood, and we needed to contact the guests who were booked to those rooms to see what types of suites we could offer them as a complimentary upgrade).  No phone number = no upgrade.  Or, if we were to be (again, heaven forbid) blown over by a tornado, we would need to contact those guests expecting to come here and stay to tell them that was no longer an option.

Guarantee Method – Yes, we do require a valid credit or debit card to make a reservation.  We won’t charge it ahead of time.  It’s to protect us from the people who make reservations, don’t show up, and never cancel them.  Again, we won’t sell it or keep it for personal use.

  • On a side note, please understand that if you do not cancel your reservation within the stated cancellation period, and never show up, your card will be charged one night’s room and tax.  This is called a no-show charge.  You can try to dispute the charge with your bank, but in the five years I’ve been in management, I’ve never had a case in which the bank sided with the customer regarding no-show charges.

Recap – At the end of your reservation, we will recap the pertinent details (dates, rate, roomtype, special requests, etc.).  We will also tell you the cancellation policy and the check-in time.  Please pay attention, so that if either one of us made any mistakes, they can be corrected on the spot.  Then, and only then, will you be offered your confirmation number (we will also offer to email it to you).

    • Please keep your confirmation number — we’re very good at our jobs, and 99% of the time, you won’t actually need it, but you are dealing with real human people who may occasionally spell something wrong, or transpose your first and last name.  You are also dealing with a computer-based reservation system that can glitch at any time.  At those times, we will all be very glad you kept your confirmation number.

Side notes that don’t get their own section-

  • Don’t be afraid to ask if you need something specific!  (The key word here is “ask,” not “demand.”)
  • You would be amazed how far simple good manners will take you.
  • Plan ahead!  You knew several months ago that your second cousin was getting married, or your nephew was graduating college: please don’t wait until the week before the event to make your reservation, or you’re not likely to get what you want.
  • Please don’t interrupt — answer our questions in the order in which they’re asked.  Please don’t ask for your confirmation number after giving us your last name and no other information.  Please don’t jump in the second we answer the phone and give us an overload of information we can’t process that quickly.  If you let us do our thing, your call will be over so much faster.
  • Please, please, if you’re asking for directions, tell us what direction you’ll be coming from, because we may give you different directions depending on the starting point.  Keep in mind, though, that we are not mapquest — we’re not responsible from getting you from your house to our hotel, just from the highway to our hotel.
  • During the reservation process, we may ask you what brings you to our area.  We’re not being nosy, we just understand that a lot of people either don’t consider the fact that rates for groups or events or certain corporations may differ from our standard rates, or they expect us to read their minds.  We’re just trying to make sure you get what you need.  Also, if you’re just passing through on a date that we’re going to have thousands of youth soccer players here, we want you to be forewarned.
  • If your group was given a deadline by which to book your rooms, and you call after that date, understand that we may or may not have the type of room you need, at the rate the group was quoted.  There’s a reason it’s called a “booking deadline” or a “cutoff date”.
  • And, most importantly of all, remember your manners!

Despite the relative snarkiness of this post, I really do look forward to having you here.  I’m just trying to make the process of getting you here a little easier on everyone.

Perspective Needed, Apply Within

Don’t get me wrong, I do think the dispatching of Osama bin Laden was a newsworthy event, though, sadly, one which probably won’t expedite the end of the war on terror (there are too many other global factors at work). We’ve had our fun now, taking to the streets and waving our flags. Heck, even Fox News has changed his name from “Osama” to “Usama;” to what end, I do not know.

The reason all this gets under my skin is because the timely death of one man (ok, one monster and a few human shields) halfway across the world has taken all our attention away from the very real problems we have going on here at home. Tonight, thousands of people across the South will go to bed in temporary shelters because they no longer have homes to sleep in, and they are burying hundreds of their nearest and dearest who were taken at the whim of Mother Nature (that bitch). Communities along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers are facing the worst flooding they’ve seen in decades, flooding which may well eclipse the 1927 floods (and blowing up levees, which does sound like fun, may or may not be the answer).

These are people who need our attention, and our help. Give where your heart tells you — personally, I’m no fan of just blindly giving cash, especially to organizations who funnel a big chunk of that cash to “administrative costs” — but please don’t let these people suffer unnoticed. So many of us don’t have cash to give right now anyway, but we do have roofs (rooves?) over our heads, and I’ll bet we have goods we can share, whether it’s gently-used clothing or toys (toys may seem like a frivolous thing to give, but it could mean the world to a child who has lost everything), or nonperishable food items, or cleaning supplies. If you check in your area, you’re likely to find a church or charitable organization collecting items for transport, and a handy-dandy list of the items they’re collecting. Or, if cash donations are your thing, do a quick google search for “Alabama Tornado Relief” and try to give to the lesser-known organizations that are actually located in the communities they serve.

Please help, not because you want a tax deduction, or because you’re looking to create some karmic balance, but because it’s the right thing to do. And because, if it were your home, your community, your family, you wouldn’t want the public to forget about you as soon as the next story came along.

Vegetarian (or Not) Chili

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It was all cloudy and gloomy today (my favorite kind of day), so I decided I needed a big ol’ pot o’ chili.  Not wanted – needed.  However, I was seriously meat-deficient.  And I don’t like beans in my chili.  And I had no intention of going to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon to play “dodge-the-after-church-crowd” – I’d rather put my eyes out with a shrimp fork.

So, after consulting several cookbooks, and my own standard chili recipe, and a couple on the web, and my mother, I pulled a bunch of stuff out of the fridge/freezer and set out to create kitchen alchemy.  And, for once, I managed to turn raw ingredients into gold.

Vegetarian (or not) Chili

* 1 T oil
* 1 medium-ish sweet onion, diced finely
* 1 roasted red pepper from a jar, also diced finely
* 3 (or more) chipotle peppers from a can, diced (you guessed it) finely, and maybe some of the adobo, too
* 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped/smashed/crushed, whatever floats your boat
* 1 block tempeh, crumbled (or 1 block of tofu, frozen and thawed, crumbled, or a half-pound or so of ground meat, browned)
* 1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes, UNdrained (I used fire-roasted because I had them, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep if I only had regular)
* 3 small zucchini, diced finely (a scant pound)
* 2 T cumin seeds, toasted and laboriously ground in a mortar-and-pestle because your coffee grinder has been out of commission since your dog chewed on the cord a couple of years ago when she was a teething puppy
* 3 T dried oregano
* 2 T chili powder
* 1/8 t cinnamon
* pepper
* 2 C broth of choice
* 1/4 cup masa harina, dissolved in 1 C water or broth (cornmeal would work here, too)
* 1 short (8-oz) can crushed pineapple
* 1/2 C catsup or chili sauce (not hot sauce)

* In a tallish soup pot over medium-ish heat, heat the oil, and saute the onion fairly slowly, until it begins to brown and stick to the bottom of the pan.
* Add the red pepper, chipotles, garlic, protein of choice, and zucchini, and stir until well mixed.
* Add the tomatoes, broth, and seasonings.  Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer over very low heat for about half an hour.
* When all the vegetables are suitably softened, and the flavors have mellowed, raise the heat and add the masa-broth mixture and allow everything to thicken.
* When the proper texture is achieved, add the pineapple and the catsup.
* Enjoy, possibly with the addition of a little sharp cheddar.

I would estimate 4 generous servings, maybe with leftovers (I live alone, so its hard to tell).

Update: the leftovers made excellent chili-mac with the addition of some melty cheese on top.  However, if you’re making the chili and don’t plan to have it consumed in one sitting, I would reconsider the pineapple — it still tasted great and gave a nice sweet-tart accent to the background, but it developed kind of a weird texture.  It could have been the cut-rate pineapple I was using, though.