Dominique Browning using a slow-cooker
Photo: Tara Donne
If you can't stand the heat…why not let dinner cook itself? Rediscover a classic '70s gadget that shoos you out of the kitchen and gives you plenty of time to savor.
I am not a confident cook. (I can already hear the loving snickers of my sister, my mother, even my dear children.)

I confess: I am not really a cook at all. What I am is a great eater. I have been told (and this during a blind date, no less) that I eat like a horse. I love food. I'll try anything. Yet when it comes to throwing dinner parties , my strength is presentation. I love setting a beautiful table; I love arranging candles and rocks and mosses and other weird centerpieces. I love an excuse to clean the house from top to bottom—again. I'm a housewife, in the truest sense of the word. All things related to home maintenance are appealing. Wash a dozen wineglasses by hand? Love to; no problem.

But cooking? I've never had a problem with baking, but one cannot live by muffins alone. I converted to the vegetarian faith the first time I had to cook for myself, and not for reasons of morality, but for reasons of confusion. The alchemy of food seems impenetrably, deliciously mysterious. Plus, I'm ignorant. When I was interviewing for a job in Texas, I was taken to a famous barbecue joint outside Austin. Asked how I liked my barbecue, I replied, "Rare." I lose my place in recipes and double things or leave them out; I confuse tsps with tbsps. You can appreciate how easy that is to do, especially if you can no longer see that well without reading glasses. I lose my appetite when cooking because I feel as though I've been playing with my food for an hour—or else I've eaten most of the critical ingredients. I have always been terribly absentminded. Well, my mind goes somewhere, I suspect, just not necessarily to the task at hand. I'm capable of forgetting that something's in the oven until smoke begins to curl out as a gentle reminder.

However. There comes a time in most lives when it feels necessary to have people at one's table. Or at least return the tenth—who do I think I'm fooling, the 20th—dinner invitation. That time arrived in November 2007 when I lost my job. Though I soon got busy all day long with various projects, including vacuuming my closets, I had lost the company of colleagues, and missed the hum and buzz of an office. Suddenly, though, I had plenty of time for...friends! And I wanted to gather them to my heart, in my home. I wanted a way to return the love I was being given.

Then, for Christmas, I was presented with not one but two slow cookers—one by my son and his girlfriend, the other by my parents. I don't know what the message was meant to be, exactly. You're slow, so this should be about your speed? Either that, or some recognition that the best part of me is still stuck in the '70s, the heyday of the Crock-Pot. I could be very happy baking my own bread, throwing my mugs, growing my herbs, and tie-dyeing my clothes. I may, frankly, be headed in that general direction. Whatever it was, both strange, shiny vessels sat marinating in their boxes for a few months until I decided it was now or never. It was my son's birthday, and I decided to give him a party, and as he is too old to be thrown into a Chuck E. Cheese's or wherever harried mothers celebrate these days, we invited ten of his friends from high school and college to my house and started planning the menu. I am very pleased to report that I have also reached the time in my life when my children are teaching me how to do things, rather than the other way around.

This was the moment slow cooking changed my life.


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