The Golden Pepper

Every year in late February, about the time when winter's icy grip begins to loosen ever so slightly, a chili contest is held in a barn near the town of Chelsea. We've participated for the last three years in this mid-winter competition, and no matter how unique our recipe, we've always come in second place. The first year we made spicy oyster chili- and lost. The next year we cooked cajun crawfish chili- and lost. This year's recipe was atomic jalepeno chili. Read on to see if the 2007 contest brought us victory or if we, once again, walked away the Susan Lucci of the Waterloo Road chili contest.

For weeks prior to this evening, we mulled over various recipe options. It had to be spicy, but not too spicy. It had to be different from the dozen other entrees, but not too different lest we offend the purists. Coming up with the perfect chili recipe is as much art as it is science. We're not about to give up the exact ingrediants of this years concoction, but we'll offer this little secret: be sure to remove the seeds from the jalepeno peppers. You want heat, not grenade mouth.

After the meat has been cooked and the veggies cut, the second trick involves the crock pot process. Simmer too long and it turns into soggy mush. If you don't cook long enough, the flavors don't blend properly. Optimum time for the crock pot stage is three to four hours. Only at RR will you get these precious nuggets of culinary advice.

By the time we arrived at the barn, our competitors had their entrees waiting and warming. We had a close call on the way- we took a quick left turn at high speed and our crock pot flipped on its side. Luckily we duct-taped the lid to the pot, but we still had spillage. Dammit- not a good omen.

When it was time for eating, we were worried. The competition this year was especially tough- wood duck chili, seafood and shrimp chili, and multiple delicious variations of venison chili (wild game submissions are varsity-squad challenges. The cook has the added avantage of boasting about the adventure of hunting and killing the main ingrediant). After everyone sampled the entrees and after the Tums bottle was passed around, the voting occurred. We waited anxiously for the outcome. Like a college basketball team that's progressed year after year to the Sweet Sixteen but no further, we refused to succumb to the trap of over-confidence.

And our diligence and humility paid off. We were awarded the 2007 Golden Pepper. It now sits in a place of honor on our fireplace mantel- proof the universe is indeed a benevolent place for those that dare to dream big and make the necessary sacrifices and never give up when all seems lost.

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