Finally I have found a way to cook that is exactly my speed. Food snobs—and they come out of the woodwork the minute you start raving about slow cookers—will tell you that you're simply braising, and that special equipment isn't necessary. They may be right technically, but they're wrong in spirit. The operative word is special, as in equipment that gives you confidence. The key thing about a slow cooker is that once everything goes in, you simply are not allowed to open the lid. You do not want to let the magic escape. It quickly became apparent that it was impossible even for me to screw up slow-cooker recipes. I'm a fan of hearty dishes and the wines that stand up to them. To say nothing of the immensely appealing variety of crockery in which you get to serve soups and stews . Once I got a few slow-cooker recipes down—and there are good ones for every season—I even began to feel better about trying to make things in other pans on my stove.
But the most wonderful thing about slow cooking is that it gives you the gift of time. It bestows a gentle, heartening halo of feeling that everything is, or will soon be, under control. This is imperative for people like me who (a) are anxious about having people over for dinner because of inexperience, (b) are plagued by the presentation hang-up and eager to make everything look insouciantly terrific, (c) have their dinner table in the kitchen, so everything has to be spotless before everyone sits down, and (d) once the clouds of preparing the main course begin to clear always remember three things they forgot to buy on the last four trips to the market, such as wine , dessert , or cheese. There is time for all of it—because your slow cooker is doing the cooking while you are catching up with yourself.
While you are preparing dinner for ten: You can leave the house. You can go to a yoga class and not panic upon awakening from a two-hour corpse pose. You can knit several more inches of the scarf you've been hauling around for the past year. You can practice that Haydn piano sonata. You can organize your linen closet. You can weed the garden. In fact, you can put in a garden. You can do all these things—and still be cooking! It is nothing short of miraculous. And by the time your meal is cooked, you are guaranteed to have worked up an appetite again. You are also guaranteed to have leftovers, because with slow cookers, there are no small gestures.
Those of us in the doldrums of unemployment need largesse. We need to feel that we are loved, wanted, and respected even while we are feeling rejected, outcast, and downtrodden. Many of us even have to learn how to ask for what we need. We've been so accustomed to giving others what they need, and on deadline, no less. Those gifts of slow cookers turned out to be a lot more meaningful than anyone could have anticipated. And how odd that they came from both generational directions—from concerned parents who could see that their child was feeling lost, and from a loving child who could see that his mom felt hapless. I'm not one to go on about doors closing and windows opening, because none of that means a thing if you can't pick yourself up off the floor to appreciate the grandeur of the view out that open window. Anyway, in my case, when that one door shut, I finally realized it was a side door after all. I found the courage to open my front door, and welcome into my home the most important things in life. I always knew what they were. I had just forgotten to make time for them.
Friends. Slow cooking. Slow living. Slow love.
Try this Crock-Pot recipe:
Indian Lamb and Spinach Curry
or another of Browning's favorites, Tarragon Chicken
Dominique Browning was most recently the editor in chief of House & Garden . Her new book, Slow Love (Atlas), will be published in May 2010.
We Hear You!