The month leading up to Thanksgiving and then Christmas has always been a challenging one for families. There are countless trips to the grocery store and fruit/vegetable markets.

Then, there is gift shopping, parties, school functions for the youngsters and so on. Whew!

This is also the time of year, though, that new products hit the market, and some of them are targeted at making our busy lives easier.

I recently tested Black & Decker’s 4-quart slow cooker and the Taylor slow cooker digital thermometer. With regard to slow cookers, I will start out by saying there is a lot of strength in simplicity, as there was in this model. It doesn’t need to have the fanciest bells and whistles to be effective.

There are many cooks that prefer more advanced technology; others prefer less — the more bells and whistles, the more intimidating they are. When I have to get my engineer husband to interpret the directions, it’s too smart for me.

This particular model offered basic cook functions — high, low and warm — in an easy-to-read dial. The updated exterior featured a modern, geometric pattern.

It cooked well and was affordable at $29.99. I do wish, however, that it and other simpler models had a light indicator to let you know the appliance is on. That’s my pet peeve. So, before you leave for the day, make it a habit to check that your slow cooker is plugged in and touch the sides for warmth.

This slow cooker is currently available at Kmart stores and online through Amazon and Black & Decker.

The Taylor digital thermometer was well thought out in terms of slow cooking. The probe is connected to a braided wire that slips easily under the lid of the cooker for monitoring internal temperature.

While I don’t often need a thermometer, it is handy at times. The digital temperature screen is magnetic and attaches to the exterior of the slow cooker for easy viewing. It retails for $14.99 and is available online at .

Julie Kay is a columnist for The Advocate. She can be reached at