Oh, my - cold, cold, cold, cold! Like into the teens for three days straight at my San Antonio home . . . which wouldn't have been totally out of line for winters in a couple of places that I have lived in. Sondrestrom AB, Greenland, was located thirty miles north of the Arctic Circle and of which it was said that although it wasn't the end of the earth, one had a fairly good view of it from there. Seoul, ROK also suffered from near-arctically cold winters, notably winds that came blasting straight from Siberia . . . and Ogden, Utah, may not have been quite as bitterly cold and wind-chilled during the winter season - but it was quite generous with the snow. It even had snow pictured on the license plates and the admonition to ‘ski Utah'. Personally, I liked the look of snow - especially at Christmas - but shoveling it out of the driveway on a Monday morning so that I could get my car out of the garage and get to work . . . no, not such an aesthetically pleasing experience. Say what you will about days of dreary rain and the resulting street flooding, at least you don't have to shovel rain out of your driveway.

A winter in South Texas usually means a couple of freezing mornings, maybe a rim of ice around puddles and a haze of frost on the grass, and then the thermometer gets right back to the forties and fifties. A whole wardrobe of winter gear - parka, muffler, warm cap, thick gloves and boots, long winter underwear - isn't required. In fact, the winter clothes that I brought from Utah will probably last the rest of my life, at the rate of current use - maybe three or four days a year. Around my San Antonio home or anywhere around South Texas, a warm winter jacket around here is a windbreaker with a flannel lining, and who the heck wears a sissy thing like a muffler? Of course, we pay for mild winters by having brutally hot summers - but today, that hot summer seems like a dream of another age. Now it's a week of piling heavy quilts onto the bed, and hanging up a heavy blanket over the inside of the front door; the wind is blowing straight against that door, and the chill simply radiates from it, halfway into the room. It's a day for staying home, baking bread and having a kettle of hearty stew simmering on the stove - or in the crockpot, like this excellent and hearty stew from Sunset's Crockery Cookbook: Snowy Day Beef Stew.

In a 3 ½ quart crockpot, combine 1 medium-sized chopped onion, 2 medium-sized carrot, cut into ½ inch slanting slices, 1 lb small, thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters, 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced, and 2-2 ¼ lbs lean boneless beef round, trimmed and cut into one-inch cubes and tossed lightly in flour.

Add: 2 tsp dried thyme, 1 14-oz can stewed tomatoes and ¼ cup dry red wine.

Cover and cook at low setting, until beef is tender, about 8-10 hours. Skim and discard fat, if any, and add 1 10-oz package frozen peas. Cook on high setting until peas are just heated through. Serve with a salad, and chunks of good stout sourdough bread. And stay warm!