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Debate Club: Slow Cooking or Stove-Top Efficient?

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What’s So Great About Slow Cookers?

by Rebecca Lang

I understand the allure of the slow cooker. Come home from a long day and, like magic, dinner is ready to eat. Except, it’s not magic.

It takes planning and preparation to make the meal come together, and I’ve never found it to be the indispensable kitchen appliance that other people do. I’d rather just spend 30 minutes cooking a meal and serving it right away than making it a whole day affair.

I really wanted to like my slow cooker. I’ve used it several times, in fact, and with each effort, I was hopeful, almost giddy, to taste the end result. However, I was always disappointed and so was my family. Besides being a handy vessel to keep my spinach and artichoke dip warm at a potluck, I simply don’t understand what the fuss is about.

Now, if you invite me over for a dinner party, I won’t boycott a meal you’ve prepared in your slow cooker. In fact, I’ll probably ask for seconds. But if you come visit me, you can bet your favorite ladle that I’ll be serving you either a stove- or oven-made dish, and here’s why:

It’s efficient

I learned to cook in college by watching Rachael Ray and copying my mother’s easy Italian recipes. I embrace their style of quick and tasty cooking, where no pocket of time is wasted. My go-to recipes let me take care of chopping veggies and even some clean-up within a thirty minute window.

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Why would I want to go through all of that ingredient prep work, and then wait six to eight hours to actually eat?

Not to mention that slow cooker recipes often recommend browning meats before they’re placed in the slow cooker. This step adds a really important layer of flavor to the dish, and…I’m just going to say it: If you don’t do it, then your slow cooker dish is not going to taste as good as my stove top version.

Besides flavor, for efficiency’s sake, I’d rather finish cooking the meal in the same pot I used to brown the meat. Transferring it to the slow cooker and adding an extra pot to my sink just doesn’t make sense to me.

I can make dinner on the fly

I know slow cooker enthusiasts talk about the joy of “setting it and forgetting it,” but there’s no guarantee I’ll remember to start my slow cooker in the first place. Mornings in my house are just as busy as the witching hours between 4:00 and 6:00 PM. And I’m not a morning person. Thinking about dinner – not to mention prepping all the components of the dish – before I’ve even eaten breakfast is my idea of a nightmare.

Plus, many recipes require ingredients, like noodles and potatoes, to be added at later stages of the cooking process, so that they don’t get too mushy. This ends up being another step I have to remember, if I want to eat on time. Instead, I have a staple of pantry ingredients that let me put something decently healthy in front of my family in a pinch.

Meals are flexible

My husband and daughter will happily eat what I make, but my son is still developing his taste preferences, which is a nice way of saying he’s picky. Serving meals that have separate components gives me peace of mind that he’ll eat at least one thing on his plate. I don’t care if it’s only a few roasted carrots. At least I know his tummy is full of something, because I’m definitely not making him an entirely different meal.

The other benefit of meal separates is that I can better control how much of each type of food I’m eating. In my personal version of heaven, I will eat my mother’s spaghetti and meatballs every day for every meal. In the real world, I can’t eat like that and still fit into my jeans, so eating separates lets me keep an eye on how many servings of protein, carbs, veggies, and fats I’m really having. This has proven to be a huge component of healthy eating for me.

I still get to enjoy slow-cooked meals

The rich flavors of soups and stews are comforting and hard to beat. Plus, the cuts of meat that do so well in low and slow settings can feed an army and are inexpensive. So, I make big batches – bigger than what could fit in my slow cooker – when I have time on a weekend. Then I freeze them in portions to heat up on busier nights of the week.

If you have a slow cooker recipe that you think will prove me wrong, please share it in the comments. I’d love to find more uses for my fancy spinach dip warmer. 

Why You’ll Have to Pry My Slow Cooker Out of my Cold, Dead Hands

by Jody Allard

Some people think slow cookers are a waste of time. They say they only produce mushy food and that everything that is cooked in one tastes the same. Those people are wrong.

My slow cooker is akin to an extra limb. Next to my children, it’s my most beloved family member. It feeds my family of eight – three sets of twins and a spare, plus myself – with little to no effort on my part, and contrary to what some naysayers think, my slow-cooked meals are straight up delicious.

It’s easy to see why the slow cooker takes so much heat; many online recipes rely on the same tired mix of meat, canned soups, and veggies. When you take the lid off your slow cooker eight hours later, all you can see is mush, and it’s anyone’s guess whether they’re eating chicken or beef that night. Ew.

But those monstrous creations aren’t the fault of the poor slow cooker. With a little effort, you can find recipes with nary a canned soup in sight and your crew will be begging for seconds. Soups and stews are always a hit in the Crock-Pot – and the meat is always more tender and flavorful than when it’s cooked in the oven – but my absolute favorite slow cooker meals are Indian curries. Slow cooking allows more time for the flavors to mesh, and doing the prep work beforehand makes them practical for even the busiest week nights.

Speaking of prep work, let’s talk about the abject misery that is dinner. Every single night, without fail, my kids expect me to feed them. This entails creating a weekly menu, preparing shopping lists, and going to at least three different stores to get stocked up. But then, as if that’s not enough, my kids expect me to actually cook all of this food. I know, it’s really just unacceptable.

That’s where my slow cooker comes in. The beauty of it is that you can pre-make ingredients, freeze them, and have a stockpile for anytime you know you’re just not going to want to cook the next day. If you can’t quite get it together to prep that much in advance (guilty!), keeping a few simple ingredients on hand means that you can make dinner happen in minutes by dumping them into a slow cooker when you leave for work.

My kids can’t get enough of my three-ingredient pulled pork, and taco night gets even easier when my two-ingredient salsa chicken is hot and ready when I walk in the door. Can you handle dumping a pack of chicken thighs and a jar of salsa in the slow cooker on your way out the door? I thought so.

I don’t live solely on Crock-Pot fare, of course. I make all sorts of elaborate (and absolutely not elaborate) meals for my family, and I pride myself on being something of a foodie. But the reality is that sometimes my kids have competing after-school activities or I have extra work to tackle in the evening, and I would rather stick pencils in my eyeballs than cook a meal. Any meal.

It’s ever-so-easy to order pizza or delivery from local restaurants on those nights, and that’s fine once in awhile, but on a regular basis it’s just not healthy or budget-friendly. Having at least part of the meal already cooked and waiting for me gives me the push I need to stop staring longingly at dinner delivery apps on my phone and get the rest of dinner on the table.

So if everything from curries to chicken pot pie tastes the same to you when they come out of a slow cooker, you should probably get your palate checked. Overcooking is often why these meals get mushy, which is where high-tech cookers come in. Not only do newer models have automatic shut-offs when their cooktime is finished, some of them can even be controlled by your phone. Running late? Switch it to warm and forget about it. It’ll be ready and not even slightly mushy when you get home! Seriously, what’s not to love about this miraculous gadget?

Unless you’re the Barefoot Contessa, meandering through your garden each day to prepare a special dinner party for a friend, learning how to use your slow cooker to maximum advantage will make that dreaded daily question of “what’s for dinner?” a distant memory.

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

After a pregnancy that is best described as uncomfortable, Jessica Simpson is finally done "Jess-tating" and is now a mama of three.

Baby Birdie Mae Johnson joined siblings Ace and Maxwell on Tuesday, March 19, Simpson announced via Instagram.

Simpson's third child weighed in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Birdie's name is no surprise to Jessica's Instagram followers, who saw numerous references to the name in her baby shower photos and IG stories in the last few weeks.

The name Birdie isn't in the top 1000 baby names according to the Social Security Administration, but It has been seeing a resurgence in recent years, according to experts.

"Birdie feels like a sassy but sweet, down-to-earth yet unusual name," Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry told Town and Country back in 2017. "It's also just old enough to be right on time."

At this moment in time, Simpson and her husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson, are probably busy counting little fingers and toes , which is great news because it means Simpson's toes can finally deflate. She's had a terrible time with swollen feet during this pregnancy, and was also hospitalized multiple times due to bronchitis in her final trimester.

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We're so glad to see Simpson's little Birdie has finally arrived!

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Spring is officially here and if you're looking for a way to celebrate the change in the season, why not treat the kids to some ice cream, mama?

DQ locations across the country (but not the ones in malls) are giving away free small vanilla cones today, March 20! So pack up the kids and get to a DQ near you.

And if you can't make it today, from March 21 through March 31, DQ's got a deal where small cones will be just 50 cents (but you have to download the DQ mobile app to claim that one).

Another chain, Pennsylvania-based Rita's Italian Ice is also dishing up freebies today, so if DQ's not your thing you can grab a free cup of Italian ice instead.

We're so excited that ice cream season is here and snowsuit season is behind us. Just a few short weeks and the kids will be jumping through the sprinklers.

Welcome back, spring. We've missed you!

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The woman who basically single-handedly taught the world to embrace vulnerability and imperfection is coming to Netflix and we cannot wait to binge whatever Brené Brown's special will serve up because we'll probably be better people after watching it.

It drops on April 19 and is called Brené Brown: The Call to Courage. If it has even a fraction of the impact of her books or the viral Ted talk that made her a household name, it's going to be life and culture changing.

Announcing the special on Instagram Brown says she "cannot believe" she's about to be "breaking some boundaries over at Netflix" with the 77-minute special.

Netflix describes the special as a discussion of "what it takes to choose courage over comfort in a culture defined by scarcity, fear and uncertainty" and it sounds exactly like what we need right now.

April 19 is still pretty far away though, so if you need some of Brown's wisdom now, check out her books on Amazon or watch (or rewatch) the 2010 Ted Talk that put her—and our culture's relationship with vulnerability and shame—in the national spotlight.

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown

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If Marie Kondo's Netflix show got people tidying up, Brown's Netflix special is sure to be the catalyst for some courageous choices this spring.

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My husband and I recently had a date night that included being away from our son overnight for the first time since he was born three years ago (but don't let your heads run away with a fantasy—we literally slept because we were exhausted #thisiswhatwecallfunnow). It was a combination of a late night work event, a feeling that we had to do something just for the two of us, and simple convenience. It would have taken hours to get home from the end of a very long day when we could just check into a hotel overnight and get home early the next day.

But before that night, I fretted about what to do. How would childcare work? No one besides me or my husband has put our son to bed, and we have never not been there when he wakes up in the morning.

Enter: Grandma.

I knew if there was any chance of this being successful, the only person that could pull it off is one of my son's favorite people—his grandmother. Grammy cakes. Gramma. We rely so much on these extended support systems to give us comfort and confidence as parents and put our kids at ease. Technically, we could parent without their support, but I'm so glad we don't have to.

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So as we walked out the door, leaving Grandma with my son for one night, I realized how lucky we are that she gets it...

She gets it because she always comes bearing delicious snacks. And usually a small toy or crayons in her bag for just the right moment when it's needed.

She gets it because she comes with all of the warmth and love of his parents but none of the baggage. None of the first time parent jitters and all of the understanding that most kids just have simple needs: to eat, play and sleep.

She gets it because she understands what I need too. The reassurance that my baby will be safe. And cared for.

She gets it because she's been in my shoes before. Decades ago, she was a nervous new mama too and felt the same worries. She's been exactly where we are.

She gets it because she shoos us away as we nervously say goodbye, calling out cheerfully, "Have fun, I've got this." And I know that she does.

She gets it because she will get down on the floor with him to play Legos—even though sometimes it's a little difficult to get back up.

She gets it because she will fumble around with our AppleTV—so different from her remote at home—to find him just the right video on Youtube that he's looking for.

She gets it because she diligently takes notes when we go through the multi-step bedtime routine that we've elaborately concocted, passing no judgment, and promising that she'll follow along as best as she can.

She gets it because she'll break the routine and lay next to him in bed when my son gets upset, singing softly in his ear until she sees his eyelids droop heavy and finally fall asleep.

She gets it because she'll text us to let us know when he's fallen asleep because she knows we'll be wondering.

She gets it because just like our son trusts us as his mom and dad, Grandma is his safe space. My son feels at ease with her—and that relaxes me, too.

She gets it because when we come home from our "big night out" the house will be clean. Our toddler's play table that always has some sort of sticky jelly residue on it will be spotless. The dishwasher empty. (Side note: She is my hero.)

She gets it because she shows up whenever we ask. Even when it means having to rearrange her schedule. Even when it means she has to sleep in our home instead of her own.

She gets it because even though she has her own life, she makes sure to be as involved in ours as she can. But that doesn't mean she gives unsolicited advice. It means that she's there. She comes to us or lets us come to her. Whenever we need her.

She gets it because she takes care of us, too. She's there to chat with at the end of a long day. To commiserate on how hard motherhood and working and life can be, but to also gently remind me, "These are the best days."

After every time Grandma comes over, she always leaves a family that feels so content. Fulfilled by her presence. The caretaking and nourishment (mental and food-wise) and warmth that accompanies her.

We know this is a privilege. We know we're beyond lucky that she is present and wants to be involved and gets it. We know that sometimes life doesn't work out like this and sometimes Grandma lives far away or is no longer here, or just doesn't get it. So we hold on. And appreciate every moment.

As Grandma leaves, I hug her tight and tell her, "I can't thank you enough. We couldn't have done this without you." Because we can't. And we wouldn't want to.

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