Autumn crackles crisply in, all hard geometries of frost and the clarity of sound and vision that the newly cooled air confers. It can be a little much. Sweaters are more than concessions to the temperature. They're hugs you give yourself, reassuring and soft and warm. Cocoa, tea, cups that steam up and harmonize with your breath as you sip from them on the porch in a bundle of old blankets. We begin to gather strength for the winter ahead. We need soups, and other good things.

A crock pot is an essential tool in autumn and winter, just as essential as wooly socks and thick sweaters and good hot chocolate and a decent long-distance calling plan. It enables you to slave over a hot stove all day without actually being there. A crock pot will simmer and bubble and cook while you are away. Turn it on in the morning, come back after work or school, and your house smells like the platonic form of Grandma has been bustling around making you nourishing soup, cinnamony applesauce, spicy chili. The smell of herbs and spices, of odors the body identifies as "nourishing, sustaining, savory" - it is better than any incense, any scented candle.

It is aromatherapy for your inner beastie, yearning for comfort and civilization in a barbaric world.

There are many Web sites and cookbooks detailing crock pot recipes, most of which require about 15 minutes of preparation and then a long, slow cook time. A small crock pot will cost perhaps 10-15 dollars (and is just the right size for 1-2 bellies). A large crock-pot can range between $20-$40, depending on bells and whistles and bellies.

I have a wee little crock pot that has two settings: low, and high. No timers or any of that business. Just low, and high. And I have an inexpensive wee little rice cooker that does a fine job on my brown rice. I recommend one of those, too, as brown rice is very good when it is cold. And here are my two favorite things to make in my crock pot in October and the other cold months:

Lentilles a la Paresseuse (Lazy Girl's Lentils)

Shopping list for 1-2 and a tiny crock pot:

  • Bag of green or brown lentils
  • 2 carrots
  • Onion
  • Potato
  • Can of tomatos (I favor Hunt's diced tomatos with onion and celery)
  • 2 cans beef broth (I favor Swanson's 98% fat free)
  • Brown rice
  • Seasonings you may or may not have: celery salt, pepper, fines herbes, balsamic vinegar.

The night before: Dice carrot, onion, and potato into smallish cubes. Put in fridge.

That morning, while the coffee is brewing: Put veggies into into crockpot. Add both cans of beef broth. Add can of tomatos. Rinse about half the bag of lentils (maybe a little more) under cool water, very well. Add to pot. Season generously with celery salt, pepper, fines herbes.

Set to high - once it gets to boiling, turn down to LOW. Take shower etc. VERY IMPORTANT: set crockpot to LOW before leaving house!

That evening, return home to lovely smell of herbs and spices and vegetables on the earthy scent palette of lentils. Mmmm! Put 1 cup brown rice into rice cooker, add 2 cups water, hit button. Sit and relax, have glass of red wine. Rice is cooked in half an hour, 45 min. Smells nutty and good. Go to kitchen, splash a measure of balsamic vinegar into lentils and stir. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve in large bowls, spooned over brown rice.

Best Apple Sauce in the World (For Breakfast!)

Shopping list:
Bag of apples (4-10, depending on crockpot size)
Sugar and cinnamon, if you don't have it.

That night: Peel, core, and cut apples into large chunks. Put apples in crockpot along with 1/4-1/2 cup of water. Sprinkle with 1 t. cinnamon (more, if you like), and 1/2 c. sugar. You can reduce the sugar to 1/4 cup and add raisins if you like. Cover and cook on low overnight. Wake up to smell of warm apple cinnamony goodness. Spoon into bowl, splash a measure of cream over apples, and eat with cold glass of milk or cup of hot coffee. Also exquisitely good with oatmeal, if you have time to make some. (Go ahead, make some. Treat yourself.)

Blue Dragon notes that in the UK, crock pots are also called slow cookers.

Happy autumn...