Okay, that’s probably an overstatement. The heart-lung machine, or whatever they call the device that keeps people alive during heart transplants. The airplane, at least before the industry got so ridiculous about cramming people in like sardines, and now is paying for it in spades because social distancing prevents them from doing this. The can opener. The piano. Innumerable vaccines. Ball-point pens. Deodorant. Motor vehicles. Computers. The pump that brings water up from a deep well. Air conditioning.
Fine. The slow cooker, formerly known as the Crock Pot, isn’t the greatest invention. But it’s a damned good one.
The concept is simple. You put the ingredients into the cooker. Some of them will need preparation; others can just get dumped in. Plug it in, put the lid on, and set the temperature and time. Come back hours later, and your meal is ready.
Today was a perfect day to pull out the slow cooker. I had a boatload of errands to do, in large part because I did so little this week. Fool that I was, I’d spent the past several weeks dreaming of the time when the coronavirus wouldn’t be the first story on the nightly news. Well, that happened this week.
Be careful what you wish for.
Also, I felt compelled to take meals to my parents. My mother declared a couple years ago that she was through cooking. This was surprising, because I remember when it seemed that all she did was cook, and she seemed to enjoy it. Everybody loved her meals. I had at least one boyfriend who I think wanted to marry me just so he could have access to my mother’s cooking. My parents bought their last house because it had a cabinet perfectly sized for Mom’s cookie sheets. She used to bake constantly, including platters of cookies for my father to take to the office at Christmas.
And then, there was my father’s involvement. I was in college when I found out that not everybody’s parents cooked together. Seriously. On weekends, my father cooked the meat, and my mother did the side dishes. Sunday dinner routinely consisted of roast beef, potatoes, and vegetables, coupled with my parents’ assessment of whether this roast was better than last week’s. Dad worked in the city and got home around seven o’clock, and Mom didn’t like to wait that long for dinner, so we’d eat around 5:30, and he’d cook his own meal when he finally came home. This, I thought, was the way everybody lived.
Now, my parents are eighty-five. Dad is long retired. Mom never had a job outside the house unless you could the time when she was the playground lady when I was ten, which means her job has always been doing all the house stuff, a job from which you don’t get to retire. You might be able to hire some help, but basically, unless you have Staff, if you’re the person in charge of meals, you’re going to continue to be in charge of them ad infinitum.
Dad stopped cooking when he got rid of the gas grill that used to reside on the deck of their condo. He makes coffee in the Keurig, but as far as I know, everything he eats is prepared by Mom or procured by one of the daughters.
You see, this is how it works if you had the foresight to produce several daughters and they all live within a reasonable distance: you can declare that you will no longer cook, and said daughters will bring you meals that you need only to heat and serve. I know this, because I’m one of the daughters. (No idea how this happens if you only have sons.) It occurs to me occasionally that when I’m eighty-five, it won’t matter if I don’t feel like cooking, because I have no daughters, which means no one will be bringing me food. It’s one of the downsides of electing not to reproduce: no built-in help.
Back to today. I had to go to the bank to deposit a client’s payment, and the bank is still operating on seriously-restricted hours. Around this time-restricted obligation, I built a series of errands. I knew I’d be tied up much of the day, likely longer than I planned.
And then, the brainstorm hit.
First, I dug through a folder of recipes to find the one for a slow cooker turkey meatloaf. A sensible person would have pulled it out last night so she’d be ready to concoct it today, but nobody ever called me sensible. So I ended up racing down to the basement freezer to pull out the ice tray of egg whites because the recipe required one egg and one white, and I defrosted a pound of ground turkey because I had a pound in the refrigerator and the recipe called for 1-1/2 lbs. I didn’t have Italian-seasoned bread crumbs, but I had panko bread crumbs, so I substituted. I did have mushrooms which I hand-chopped; in retrospect, I should have used the food processor since their purpose is to keep the turkey moist, and the larger chunks I produced didn’t really do the job.
I have two slow cookers. One, an oval cooker that includes a timer, no longer has a handle on the glass lid, so I have a long piece of heavy-duty foil that I place beneath it, with several inches coming up on either side, and that’s how I remove the lid. The round one, which dates back to the 1980s, doesn’t seem to keep heat very well anymore, so if I put something in it on low, I might just as well leave the food on the windowsill in the sunshine for all the cooking it’ll do. With the round one, it’s high or nothing.
I lined the oval cooker with a slow cooker liner, another brilliant invention that minimizes, if not eliminates, the need to scrub the slow cooker inserts. On instruction from the meatloaf recipe, I put a piece of parchment in the oval cooker to make removing the meatloaf easier. (It really does. Do not skip this step.) Then, based on my own notes, I made a ring of heavy duty foil to serve as a rack to keep the meatloaf up out of its own drippings. I mixed up the meat loaf and topping, and I plunked it on top of the foil rack, put the lid and its foil handle in place, and set the timer for six hours on low.
It then occurred to me that meat loaf needs potatoes. Since the day was warm and I didn’t want to have to come home and turn on the oven, I flipped through my slow cooker recipe book for a bit of guidance. Then, I placed a liner in the round cooker. I scrubbed three large red potatoes and pierced them with a small knife. I poured olive oil into a small dish and rolled each one around. I plunked them in the round cooker. The recipe said three to five hours on high, and six to nine on low. I set the round cooker to high, figuring they’d be done at some point around five or six hours.
At that point, I set out on the first set of errands: post office, bank, bookstore, liquor store, and three farm stands. These errands resulted in a bank deposit, a birthday gift, a book for me, wine, jumbo eggs for Dad, premade meals for Mom and Dad, and lettuce, asparagus, strawberries, frozen pesto, and a new face mask for me. I stopped at home to deposit these items in the refrigerator, freezer, and/or counter, as appropriate. Then, I went back out to get prescriptions and additional meals for Mom and Dad, after which I took all their stuff to them. On the way home, I stopped at Staples for supplies to make a sign for the protest tomorrow, got gas, and stopped by the supermarket because they had a BOGO sale on the English muffins I like.
All told, I was gone for about six hours, running hither and yon. And when I finally walked in the door, tired and many dollars lighter, do you know what awaited, all ready for me?
My meat loaf was ready. My potatoes were ready. All I had to do was pour the wine, steam the asparagus, and feed the cats.
I took my new book out onto the porch with my dinner. As the peepers and the birds engaged in their nightly concert, I read and sipped and ate the meal that the slow cookers had prepared for me while I was busily attending to others.
I don’t have anybody to cook for me. If I decide someday that I’m done cooking, it’ll mean I’m done eating. Since this is enormously unlikely, I’ll probably be cooking to my dying day. Possibly beyond, if there are meals in the freezer that somebody can serve at my post-funeral reception.
If you’re at the reception and you’re eating something from my freezer, know that there’s an excellent chance I cooked it in one of my slow cookers. And if you’re really lucky, maybe I’ll leave you one of them in my will, so that someday when you have a hectic day where you’re running around tending to others or doing other types of hard work, you’ll be able to stop at the end of the day and find that your dinner is ready, and all you’ll need to do is dish up, sit down, and enjoy. The invention that lets you do that, the slow cooker—if it’s not the greatest invention in the world, it’s damned close.