The best cold weather perfume.

th-1We’re in a subzero cold snap that should last at least a few more days. The temperature was eight below when I got up and managed to make it only four degrees above the zero-mark before shivering its  way back down the thermometer.

But I don’t care (much), because the house smells so good.

After DF had his lunch he filled the five-quart West Bend slow cooker with the contents of the boiling bag, some vegetable cooking water from the freezer and the water left from last night’s boiled potatoes.

(That last included little bits of spud because I got distracted and let them boil perhaps a bit too long.)

This time around the boiling bag contained carrot tops, apple cores, the tough ends of romaine leaves, onion skins, potato peelings and a handful of very small, very green tomatoes from the greenhouse project. Although all of the bigger tomatoes and some of the smaller ones eventually turned red after we brought them indoors, the little ones were stubbornly bright-green and beginning to soften. Thus we sacrificed them to the soup and are already dreaming of next spring.


Weather like this makes us dream of spring anyway. But the smell of soup makings really chases the chill.

I say “soup makings” because this batch is still far from becoming potage. When DF gets home from work he’ll unplug the slow cooker and set it outside to cool. (That won’t take long. It’s one below zero right now, at 5:30 p.m.) Then he’ll drain out the solids and place the bones in the trash and the veggies in the container to go out to the compost bin.

The broth will go back outdoors, so that any fat will rise to the surface and firm up. By “firm up,” of course, I mean “freeze.” Easier to pry it off that way.


A culinary caress

Soup won’t be tonight’s dinner; we’re having leftovers. In fact, the stock will probably go into the freezer. (The indoor one, not the outdoor one.)

Some night in the near future when neither of us wants to cook we’ll pull out the broth and add our home-grown and -preserved vegetables (potatoes, turnips, dehydrated greens and slivers of red cabbage) plus whatever herbs and spices look good. Maybe I’ll also cook a small pot of frugal quinoa, i.e., the kind I get for free with Amazon gift cards from the Swagbucks reward program. (The same bag costs $10.29 in Anchorage – and it’s a small bag.)

We’ll set out some mustard vinegar and Tabasco, to be added to each diner’s taste, and go back to the freezer for some of the rolls I recently baked. While the soup is cooking the kitchen will smell wonderful a second time, and the resulting meal will delight us far beyond its actual capacity to nourish. Like all our meals, it will be food that’s “prepared and shared with love,” as DF puts it.

I once interviewed a single mom who told me that her slow cooker and bread machine saved her butt, and her budget. She’d put something in each appliance and set the timers right before she raced out the door in the morning. When she and her two kids came home to a dark house on a cold night, the smells of fresh bread and crockpot-whatever greeted them like a hug. I’ve been waiting for you. Dinner’s ready!

Not having to charge into cooking made her happy. Her children never noticed that the food they were eating was pretty plain fare because (a) it smelled so good, (b) they were really hungry and (c) fresh bread.

The process of making stock from the boiling bag provides the same culinary caress. I’ve been working diligently all day in a house that’s quiet and, truth be told, a bit lonely. But the ghostly fragrance of Soup That’s Yet To Come reminds me that DF is always thinking ahead, and that one night soon we’ll share bread and broth.

If winter is starting to get you down I suggest firing up the crockpot. If it doesn’t have a timer, buy one and plug it in. Nothing like coming home to a place that smells like supper.


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  1. I have no pity for you re: the cold. You were warmer than I, in Chicago, most of last winter.

    As I am retired I found I never had use or need for a crockpot. I just use the stovetop or oven.

    • Donna Freedman

      Not asking for pity from you or anybody else. And to be honest, I found last winter unpleasant: It’s not supposed to be in the high 20s or, worse, the mid-30s here in December and January.

  2. Thank you for the article…. MAN it sounds like you may get a REAL winter this year…What an interesting soup, we don’t do this nearly enough. Will share we used to run our bread machine in conjunction with the crock pot BUT for whatever reason the pounds piled on. So we have eased off on the bread a bit. Thanks once more for the article….

    • It’s my personal opinion that the pounds pile on more because of the YEARS. You can eat 1/3 of what you did as a young adult and that jelly belly will still make its appearance. Just sayin’.

      • Donna Freedman

        Metabolisms slow, but I’m probably not helping mine along with the bread. Sigh.

        • I’m gonna blame it on butter….and ….gravity…

        • I wish I didn’t love bread as much!

          • And it’s all so unfair. With wisdom should come an *increased* metabolism. It always seemed to me that a reward for living a long life should be that you could eat like a ditch digger and be as slim as a teenager. 😀 😀 😀

  3. lostAnnfound

    I LOVE my slow cooker. Have the same one I received as a wedding shower gift 28 years ago and it’s still going strong. There’s nothing like “setting and forgetting” and knowing that at the end of the day we’ll have a hot, yummy dinner waiting for us.

    I also use my slow-cooker (and my mom’s) on Thanksgiving. I make up the mashed potatoes and the turnip a day or two before and on the morning of Thanksgiving I put each veggie into a slow cooker and turn them on low. By the time everyone sits down to eat (1:30-ish) the potatoes and turnip are piping hot and I don’t have a bunch of big pots sitting around waiting to be washed. Really saves time and also space in the kitchen on the holiday itself.

  4. I love this article! The last two weekends I have been making a slow cooker of soup and we eat it for lunch all week. Last weekend it was lentil soup with mushrooms and kale and this week vegetable and black bean. Some of it always goes in the freezer for a night when we don’t have time to cook. Using the slow cooker, like hanging clothes on the line feels so virtuous. I just realized that both of them involve delightful smells!

    • Donna Freedman

      They do! In fact, DF put in a load of laundry last night and hung it on racks near the fireplace insert. Both he and the laundry were relaxing by the fire, the laundry sending up steam and DF sending up not-quite-asleep noises.

      Soup just gets better as the week goes on. Some people don’t like leftovers but I love ’em because, well, they’re ready.

  5. Sounds so cozy and peaceful! So jealous — 80 degrees F is NOT turkey weather. Although folks here got exercised over 48 degrees earlier this week — brrr! — so we are probably too weeny to withstand the permafrost but I feel calm and wistful just reading this lovely piece. Nice . . .

  6. I’d be lost without my slow cooker! I usually do soups and stews, but I’ve also used it to roast meat, boil eggs, and bake bread. Right now it’s happily burbling away, full of Monday night’s chicken bones and some vegetable scraps.

    We wore out our bread machine ages ago and never got another. Since I’m home days, it’s usually no trouble to start a batch of bread in the morning, knead it a while later, and bake it in the afternoon. I don’t do that nearly often enough!

    I don’t know if it’s the cooling weather or the approaching holidays or what, but these last couple weeks the cooking bug has bitten me hard. That’s not a bad thing!

    Hope you and DF enjoy your soup!

    • Donna Freedman

      DF makes bread just about every weekend. Last weekend he made bread and I made a batch of those soft oat rolls, to put in the freezer — some will be enjoyed with the soup, and the others are on hand in case my nephews drop by. (They love split rolls with sausage patties in between.)

      And yes, the cold weather (it’s 4 below zero right now, but at least we’re not in Fairbanks) makes me want to make thick stews and pots of pinto beans and ham with a pan of cornbread on the side. Mmmmm…..carbs.

      Thanks for being such a consistent reader and commenter.

  7. What a warm and soothing bit of writing! I’m in your previous state, so unlikely to see any really character-building temperatures. 😉

    I have been in a soup mood recently, partly due to discovery of The New England Soup Co. cookbook. If you’re ever feeling up to a bit of extra work for a soup recipe, try them – their flavor combinations are sometimes unexpected, but they work really well together.

  8. I’ve never been bread machine person, but I love my crockpot. I recently roasted two chickens, made other lunches with the meat, then made chicken soup twice, once with each carcass.

  9. Cathy in NJ

    What a beautiful, peaceful scene you paint with your words. You make me want to fire up the bread machine again:)

    I love soup and bread. Fortunately, my daughter loves soup as well, even borscht. I usually do my soups on the stovetop in a stock pot.

    I haven’t acclimated to the crockpot. I use the crock pot mostly for warming sides at holiday meals.

    • Donna Freedman

      What I like most about the slow cooker is that my chili doesn’t burn. When I do it on the stovetop I sometimes forget to stir and it scorches on the bottom. Blech. It’s a great appliance for absent-minded cooks.

      • Cathy in NJ

        Absent minded is me. I love recipes where I set a timer and I am free me to do something else. Even if that something else is sitting for a minute.

  10. I kept saying how I would never use a crockpot and how I was afraid of one. I was commenting to a blogger who uses four crockpots at a time to make dinners for a month.

    Finally, a crockpot arrived on my doorstep. She had sent one to me–7 qts! I now love my crockpot. Then, I found a 33.5 qt. one for $3, a smaller one, at a yard sale.

    NOW, I love my crockpots. I love the continual aroma of “home.” When I go out in the yard, to the store, or anywhere, I loooove opening the door to the welcoming aroma of the crockpot. It is like coming home after school when my mother had dinner on.

    Same with the bread machine and aroma. I finally put it away because there is just me and I was eating too much bread. I know I can freeze it, but I know how to get into the freezer! It is too easy to heat it in the oven even if it is frozen.

    I would hate to live in the temperature you are. But, you probably stay warmer than I since you must have means to stay warm to live. I just put up with cold weather here in the South, knowing it will not even freeze except for a few days. It is 65 here now and will go down to 47. I am chilly from the damp, but putting on a sweatshirt will make me sweat. It is always a battle not to sweat and not be chilled.

    My lunch just now was a chicken sandwich with boneless, skinless chicken breasts cooked in the crockpot with only Mrs. Dash lemon pepper. The sandwich had tomatoes from the market and fresh green Romaine on it. I may break out the bread machine for a few weeks. Maybe not.

    I think my crockpot needs some blackeyed peas in it. I have never cooked those before in the crockpot.

    Great post!

  11. I just finished the last of a soup made with broth I pulled from the freezer two days ago. I ate the soup with jerk/stewed chicken I cooked yesterday along with with boiled green bananas from my backyard. There is a bunch of plantains ripening on the back porch as I type. I’m going to make cornbread (budget bytes recipe) in a little while, I’ll put turkey slices I got on special under that cornbread, and mix it with pasta sauce I made from large cans of whole tomatoes I bought for about US 75 cents per can. Donna, you remind us so often to count our blessings. Thank you, and may your blessings continue to grow.

  12. All this talk of slow cookers and soup reminded me I have a package of chicken backs and necks in the freezer. I can set it up tonight, and come home to that wonderful smell tomorrow. Just perfect for the rainy day that’s in our forecast. Thank you so much for this post!

  13. Is it quite hygienic to put an apple core in there, unless it was from a cut-up and not a chewed-on apple? I’d also be a bit worried about cyanide from the seeds.

    • Donna Freedman

      In fact the apple core (actually four pieces) is from a cut-up apple. I take the seeds out, even though it’s probably not necessary:

      As for hygiene, the only two people eating the soup kiss every chance they get, so neither would worry about a little saliva. Besides, the stock is being boiled slowly for hours so any stray rhinovirus would have long since bitten the dust.

  14. I love the crockpot! When my kids were younger, I used it a lot more because of work and sports! I still use it a few times a month because it makes life easy and the meals are healthier than stopping out at night 🙂

  15. Mmmmm num num! I used to keep a boiling bag in the freezer. Too lazy to cope with the work and the clean-up these days…but your article is so scrumptious I can practically smell the perfume all the way to Phoenix!

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