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His Lordship, the Monster and I made it safely across the country, although there was one point at which we were nearly stuck in the Badlands of South Dakota with this guy:

Fortunately, and thanks to the good and decent people of Rapid City, we got back on the road after a relatively mild encounter with Murphy and his stupid law, and there were no subsequent mishaps.

Since our arrival a few days ago, we have been manically trying to settle into what is currently a marginally-furnished flat decorated mostly with suitcases and boxes still needing to be unpacked.  I’m sure I’ll spend the next three months feeling off-kilter, followed by about five more months of feeling like things have finally sorted themselves out, then another three of going off-kilter all over again since my graduate program is only a year long, and we’ll be gearing up to move back east.  Since I’ll make myself hysterical if I think about it too much, let’s just take a little sojourn into Denial for the time being, OK?  Excellent.

Besides, the critical component in turning a house into a home is the cooking and serving of a meal.  You can decorate to the nines and put every shoe and knicknack in its designated place, but until you’ve filled the corners with the smell of something deliciously comforting, it’s just a shell.

Our first home-cooked meal here was a very simple chili prepared in the slow cooker, which allowed us to go about the unpacking, shopping and general mayhem that always attends the first full day in a new place without having to monitor the stove.  One thing I’m not hurting for is spices, since I shipped the entire collection after adding up the costs of replacement, to say nothing of the psychological costs of disposing of my precious little jars and zip-bags of fragrant stuff.  With just a little bit of chopping, sauteeing and can-opening, we filled the house, and our bellies, with warmth.

It’s not haute cuisine by a long shot, but it certainly did make this place feel more like home.

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander
1 teaspoon sweet paprika, or 1/2 teaspoon each sweet and smoked
1 teaspoon cocoa
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt to taste
1 12-oz beer of choice
1 32-oz can diced tomatoes, including juice
2 15-oz cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 each dried cascabel and New Mexico chiles
1/2 a 16-oz bag of frozen corn
Sour cream and sliced scallions for garnishing

Turn the slow cooker on to high to preheat the ceramic core.

In a wide saute pan on medium-high, heat olive oil over medium-high and add onions, celery and carrots, salting lightly. Cook until the vegetables have softened and just begun to caramelize, then add garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander and paprika. Continue cooking until the spices become fragrant and start to stick to the bottom of the pan, but be careful not to burn. Add cocoa and oregano and cook a few seconds more, then deglaze the pan with half the beer, scraping up all the browned bits.

Decant the vegetables into the slow cooker and add the remaining beer, tomatoes, kidney beans, and chiles. Salt generously, and if necessary, add hot water to just so the liquid level just exceeds the top of the chili. Cover and cook until everything is amalgamated, 1-2 hours on high or up to 8 on low.  During the last half-hour, add the frozen corn.

Serve by itself or over freshly cooked rice, garnished with the sour cream and scallions.

Notes:

If you don’t want to use the slow cooker, this could be done just as well on the stovetop in a large pot on a low simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.

Like all stews, chili is not an exact science and will accept all manner of tinkering.  Use whatever chiles you have or leave them out altogether, replace the beer with any other liquid you fancy, swap out the spices, leave out the corn, etc. at will.

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