by Betsy Hart
Scripps Howard News Service
December 31, 2004
OK, it was my sister-in-law and brother who gave it to me, but here it is. Drum roll please ... a Crock-Pot. You know, a big, slow-cooking, earthenware pot. You put a bunch of good stuff in there in the morning, you don't think about it any more, and by dinnertime you've got a meal.
Here's why this is one of the best gifts I've ever received. The Crock-Pot (by Rival) has over 200 recipes electronically programmed into it. So, I figure out what we want to eat, punch some buttons to put the recipe on a screen right there on the pot, pull all the stuff together in the quantities it tells me too, dump it in and boom - I've cooked a meal for my family.
Not exciting, right? Wrong! That's because cooking in general, and cookbooks in particular, scare me to death. I'll start with the cookbooks. They inspire a panic attack in me. Over the years I've had kind people take pity on me - and my family - and suggest incredibly user-friendly books. But it never helps. They just inspire user-friendly panic attacks.
Seriously. All of my insecurities come out when I open a cookbook. (Well, not the claustrophobia.) Anyway, it's partly because I know whatever I make won't turn out nearly as good as it should _ because it never has. There are so many ingredients, and I am always out of one or more. And they are just so complicated. Trying to saute this and brown that and get it all in at the right times is impossible when, for instance, I'm also trying to keep peace among four young kids at dinnertime.
But here's the real tipping factor when it comes to cookbooks for me: when I do (rarely) actually take one down from the shelf, it means the whole meal has been raised to a new level _ and the intimidation factor can be overwhelming.
That's why I think the built-in recipes, meaning no cookbook panic attacks/intimidation element, and in which everything goes in to the pot AT THE SAME TIME, is sheer genius.
It also allows me to do something else. Easily cook. This is the larger issue. The whole meal thing makes me nuts. Three times a day putting food on the table for my family just seems excessive. I could easily live on one meal - why can't they? It's like I'm on this constantly repeating loop of food preparation and it never ends, but it doesn't really get us anywhere either.
I probably get this attitude from my dear mother. By the time I was in high school, I was the last of five kids and the only one at home. My mom, who really ate only because it was required for her to live and do other interesting things, would sometimes say, "Dinner has been canceled due to lack of interest." Boy, do I get that.
(I know, I know, dinner can be a great time for family. It's that "one meal" I would actually keep.)
But in spite of my angst, I feel morally called to do something resembling cooking for my family. And it does make me feel good when I actually do do it. So, if you've hung in there with my whining this far, you're probably wondering - what in the world does that poor family eat? OK, I'm very good at grilling, inside or outside. We do lots of steamed vegetables and fresh fruit. I've got all that down.
I'm also on a first name basis with the pizza man. (And, I know his kids' birthdates.)
Then there are those great semi-prepared foods. A few years ago I wrote about a new trend in the food industry. "Prepared" foods that required some "cooking" at home, so that women felt like they were doing something for their families. Seriously. Apparently, I'm not alone. Honchos in the food business found that a totally prepared meal wasn't nearly as popular with women as one that required a certain amount of time on the stove and stirring, and maybe adding an ingredient or two. Tell me about it. These are meals like "stir fried sesame chicken" and other fare that goes way beyond the Tuna Helper we all remember as kids. (Though, let's not knock Tuna Helper.)
There too the "recipe" is on the box, not in a book. It keeps everything on a manageable level, including my cooking anxiety.
So it is with my new Crock-Pot. What an innovation.
I just wish my mother had lived to see this day.
can be reached by e-mail at letterstohart(at)comcast.net.