Chili for those chilly afternoon hikes

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Every daylight savings time, some excited child wakes in me. This is how I know I live in the right place: While some others bemoan the onset of early darkness, I relish it. Plentiful daylight is nice, but winter wraps us into the mountains and tucks us in early. The leaves fall away, the light changes and the landscape looks crisp and glowing in a way we don't remember from season to season.

The weather may be cold, but the way the world looks when the trees are naked, and the way the air feels in your lungs during a good, long walk, are like water from a spring. While I stick to the gym during the summer, I find myself aching to get outside as the temperature drops. I love breathing in the cold air, I love the spicy smell of wood smoke that settles over my town, and I love the eerie quiet all around me. It's beautiful to set out alone in the late morning for a long, contemplative, silent walk.

When the snow falls, the walk becomes an even better workout. Sometimes, I allow a friend (or two, and sometimes a dog) to join me, but only if they are hardy and ready to walk more than two miles in the cold.

This kind of exercise doesn't inspire me to stand in the kitchen, working on some intricate recipe for dinner, even on the most lazy and open Sunday. This month's recipe is a standby for me during the winter — crockpot chili that makes plenty of leftovers or can feed eight people for a post-hike party. It also incorporates some of the meat I bought at last month's Berkshire Grown Holiday Farmers Market (seriously, go to the December one — I got everything from ground beef to ground lamb to goat chorizo). A simple chili, spiced up with sambal oelek, is the perfect thing to revive yourself — grab a bowl and a piece of crusty bread, cuddle under a blanket, and warm your bones after a nice dose of winter sunlight.

If you don't have sambal oelek (it's at the international foods section of most grocery stores for about $3), chili powder will do just fine, or you can add a half cup of any kind of salsa for an extra kick.

Simple and restorative crockpot chili

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound ground beef

Two small onions, diced

Four cloves garlic, diced

1 pepper any color, chopped

1 can black beans

1 can red beans

1 cup corn, fresh or frozen

1 can whole peeled tomatoes (or crushed, but these are my standby)

1 teaspoon cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon chipotle sauce (from a can of chipotles)

2 tablespoons sambal oelek sauce

DIRECTIONS:

Brown ground beef in a heavy-bottom pan on your stovetop. Meanwhile, prepare vegetables and dump into crockpot with corn, tomatoes, spices, and beans (don't drain beans). Add in ground beef and a pinch of salt and pepper, then cook on low for eight hours while you go enjoy the crisp, cold air.


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