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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Crockpots -- not just for Shabbos anymore

Thanks to Robin, for inspiring this post. Check out her blog Around the Island

My childhood memories of dinner were not always pleasant. I hated most vegetables, and my mom made me eat them because "they are good for you." The thing is, I have these memories because my mom made a proper dinner every night, complete with protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables. My kids will not have these memories.

Dinner is the bane of my existence.
(as are sandwiches for aruchat esser (10:00 am snack) -- more on that in another post)

The thing is, I am tired when dinner time arrives. And I don’t really like cooking to begin with. And the only way I can consistently get my kids to eat vegetables is in soup. So, I am always struggling to put something nutritious onto our dinner table.

One of my most difficult dinner days is Mondays. I teach swimming on Mondays, and we don’t get home until late.

Last year, I decided I needed a better solution for Monday night dinners.

Then, I had an epiphany: The Crock-Pot (slow cooker)

We received our slow cooker as a wedding gift from a good friend and I used it for making pareve (no meat/dairy) chullent (unique traditional Shabbat stew).

I wanted to keep the cooker pareve, but I had a radical idea: I could use it for cooking pareve meals during the week.

This might seem pretty straight forward to you, but it took me over ten years to come up with this idea.

The first time I used the slow cooker for something other than chullent, I wasn’t sure what I was doing.

My theory was: if you throw a bunch of vegetables in a pot with a lot of water, and slow cook them all day, the net result has to be good.

So that’s what I did. I took all the vegetables we had in the house, cut them up small, added water and set the slow cooker on low.

When we returned from the pool that evening, and entered the main stairwell, there was a wonderful smell coming from someone’s apartment.

Imagine our delight when we entered our apartment and realized that the delicious smell was coming from our home!

It was amazing!!

I started making stews every week. I experimented with different combinations of legumes. I often added TVP (textured vegetable protein) to add protein. I "mixed and matched".

Everything I made was delicious! I couldn’t go wrong!

All I needed was a half hour or so to cut up vegetables and sort legumes.

As I cut and sorted, I dumped everything into the pot. Then, when the pot was ¾ of the way full, I filled up the rest of the pot with pre-boiled water from the kum-kum (electric kettle that all Israelis have).

That’s it.


I learned a few things along the way:

If there are legumes, the stew needs longer to cook (I don’t pre-soak them). Beans and peas take the longest to get soft. Lentils take less time. Red lentils take the least amount of time. If I get home and the legumes are a little too crunchy, I cheat. I take out my zapper and blend the soup.

Once, I left the leftovers in the pot, added more vegetables, and kept it cooking. The stew was even better the next day.

I have this idea that in the "olden days" people used to do that -- keep a pot over the hearth and just keep adding more vegetables.

The constant cooking heats the house as well.

Warm stew in a warm home -- what could be better on a cold winter day?

I haven’t made my Monday stew in a while.

Since my recent diagnosis, getting a nutritious dinner together became even more of a challenge. As tired as I was before, there is no comparison with the tiredness I feel from the chemo.

Then, it got easier -- thanks to friends who help out by making dinner for my family. Now I know that at least once or twice a week, the kids have a proper dinner, including vegetables.

We also hired someone, who helps us out with cleaning and a bit of cooking. She makes really good soup, with plenty of vegetables. And fresh salad too.

Recently, in addition to trying to provide balanced meals, I’ve made more of an effort to sit with my kids and have a “sit-down meal” together (rather than “catch as catch can” meals with everyone fending for themselves). I don’t talk on the phone and I sit with them, even when I’m tired, even when I'm not hungry. It makes a difference.

Yesterday my son actually thanked me for serving “real dinners” lately.

It made me feel good.

I don’t succeed every day. But it’s nice to know that there are some successes along the way, and that someone notices the difference.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,


Robin said...

Hey, I'm an inspiration! Imagine that.

Reading this, I think I'm realizing that my better results have been the vegetarian ones. The chilis and other bean-based concoctions have come out well, while the results with meat have been very up and down. I did make an incredible bbq'd beef once - shredded it up for the most amazing and completely unhealthy sandwiches imaginable. I don't dare make it more than once or twice a year or my arteries would harden on the spot.

Ok, you've inspired me know. The crockpot is coming back out tomorrow. Wish me luck...

Anonymous said...

I can realte to the phone thing. We have a policy that we don't answer the phone during dinner (we do screen, and if it is an emergency, we do answer). So our message just says 'please leave a message', it doesn't say we aren't home/can't answer the phone etc. It makes for much better family time, and we have all learned that the telephone can wait!

RivkA with a capital A said...

Robin -- wishing you luck!

Please share any particularly tasty combinations.

Na'ama -- I wish I could do that. I am way too "Pavlovian". The phone rings and I HAVE to answer it.

However the kids don't seem to mind now. I answer with "we are in the middle of supper, is it urgent?" Usually, the caller can wait. The kids know that they are the priority.

And I avoid the problem of unanswered messages on the answering machine.

See, if I am home, I MUST answer the phone. But I can leave messages unchecked on the answering machine for weeks!!