Suzanne Tobias

‘Crock-Pot cooking’ an oxymoron, but dinner is served

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Let me go ahead and issue an apology to anyone out there who’s starting the year with one of those exorcise-your-demons cleanses that involves smoothies the color of a newborn’s diapers.

That is so honorable and impressive. Truly. I hope you cleanse everything you want to cleanse.

That said, I am hunkering down in this post-holiday, pre-spring downer of a season – is there anything as gray and depressing as late January? – and rediscovering the joy of slow cooking.

Give me any recipe with a list of ingredients and that joyous, one-sentence directive: “Combine everything in a Crock-Pot, and cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours.”

Things like baked potato soup, buffalo chicken chili, mac and cheese, Thai beef curry and barbecue Coca-Cola baby back ribs. These wintry comfort foods are the Adele playlist of recipes – so rich and hearty and creamy and soothing, they can bring you to tears.

Hello from the napping side, courtesy of short ribs and Cabernet.

The best part of Crock-Pot cooking, of course, is that it’s not really cooking at all. It’s chopping and dumping and flipping a switch. It’s coming home to wonderful smells that magically happened while you were out living your life, and then ladling that goodness over a bowl of hot carbs – pasta, rice, potatoes, your call – and pretending you’re indispensable.

“Look at this delicious meal,” I think as we fetch the plates. “I worked on it all day.”

My children have gotten wise, of course. They know these meals take about as much effort as a trip through the Chipotle line, what with all the “White or brown rice?” and “What kind of beans?” and “Salsa? Cheese? Guac? Chips?” business.

Meals take planning, I explain to the kids. And shopping. And unloading groceries and stuffing them in the pantry and all the stuff they never show on Food Network.

Like most moms, I’m just looking for ways to be the dinnertime hero. And by “hero,” I mean feed my family. Period.

A friend told me about a recent evening at her house in which she got home from work, glanced at the clock and panicked over what to make for dinner. Her husband and two teenage children were expected back from work and after-school activities any minute, they’d be starving, and she didn’t know what she had in the fridge.

Turns out she had the makings of biscuits and sausage gravy – what witchcraft is this? I thought – and she whipped them together with time to spare.

Then the texts started: Her son was going to dinner with friends. Her daughter was going to dinner with friends. Her husband would be working late. See you later, don’t hold dinner.

Perfect.

I told her she should have called me. I would have shown her dinner some love and gratitude.

We decided there should be a local Facebook group where parents with spare food – uneaten casseroles, extra tacos or lonely, abandoned biscuits and gravy – could offer their products to those whose teenagers not only showed up for dinner but brought friends home.

Because it takes a village. And lots of Crock-Pots.

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