I was 13 years old when my Dad’s job was transferred to Arizona and, having never lived anywhere else in my life, moving all the way to Arizona was a big, big deal. Friends asked if I was going to ride a horse to school and if we would live in a teepee or a real house – they were dead serious. Through the eyes of a somewhat sheltered 13-year-old, Arizona was the wild, wild west full of Indian reservations, hot deserts with very large cacti, cowboys, cowboy boots, their trucks, rattlesnakes and scorpions.
A moving company came and packed all our earthly possessions from that tiny little house on Ankeny Street with the galley kitchen and the painted light blue and white cabinets. Everything was loaded onto a large moving van where it would be driven to Arizona by way of the highway, up hills and down valleys, through the Aspens and around winding paths where that truck would arrive at it’s final destination about 3 weeks later. Our clothes, photo albums, boxes of 8 millimeter family movies, Dad’s coin collection that had been started years before and Christmas ornaments he had made as a boy in school were all packed away in that truck. Mother’s blue and silver china Dad bought for her while he was stationed overseas, toys, skateboards, bicycles, 45s and 33LPs (my mother’s entire collection of Barbara Streisand albums as well as my collection of Beatle albums including ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Abby Road’) were all neatly and meticulously packed away in that truck; packed by men dressed in one-piece jumpsuits with embroidered name tags, methodically going from room to room with thick brown cardboard boxes, a black permanent marker and an inventory list snapped to a clipboard. Sadly, none of the 8 millimeter films, my Dad’s coin collection or his childhood Christmas ornaments ever made it to Arizona as they were stolen, but oh hallelujah, ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Abby Road’ did.
Dad and my 6-year-old brother drove our car across the desert to our new home; it was a monstrous dark blue Studebaker (I think, I’m not a car person) with one long gray-cushioned seat in the front and one long gray-cushioned seat in the back; the starter was shot so Dad used a screwdriver to get the beast going. My mother, my sister, my one-year-old baby sister and I flew on an airplane for the very first time; when my grandparents drove us to the airport that July morning it was a cool and cloudy 54 degrees. I’ll never, ever forget stepping off that plane onto the tarmac in Phoenix 6 hours later. The 110 degree temperature hit my lungs and I gasped; the searing heat was staggering and in that moment I wondered if my parents had lost their minds. We had just moved to hell.
I don’t think Julia Child felt as if she’d landed in hell upon arriving in Paris, France. In fact, I’m quite sure she knew she was on an adventure of a lifetime; granted she was older than 13 but she didn’t speak the language well and she missed her friends and family. But she persevered and created a new life for herself which then set her on a lifelong path she would never have imagined.
I am not being presumptuous in making comparisons between my life and that of the great Julia Child. But in writing this post I am struck by how one moment can set your life on a completely different trajectory. My life is most certainly different now than if we had never left the little house on Ankeny Street – some good, some bad but all have brought me to this wonderful place that I find myself in today.
And Julia Child is both revered and beloved for her contributions she made to the culinary world; some were struggles, most were triumphs. She is probably best known for her Boeuf Bourguignon but her French Onion Soup is also a classic: the lowly onion is transformed into something that is both luscious and comforting when the temperatures are cold, winter days are short and winter nights are long.
I’ve made this recipe several times exactly as written and once using onions from this post; I could not tell the difference between the two – both are simple, yet divine. If using the slow cooker onions, you’ll have more than enough to make this recipe. I eyeballed what looked to be the right amount and set the rest of the onions aside for other uses; then pick the recipe up where you add the salt and sugar to the pan and finish the recipe as written. Don’t forget the cognac – this is the absolute key to taking this soup from ‘really good’ to sublime! The alcohol cooks out but you’re left with a deep richness that cannot be achieved without it. And I highly recommend adding the grated onion before baking that last 20 minutes. This would be a lovely, romantic meal for Valentine’s Day or any other celebration – add a simple green salad and a decadent chocolate dessert – Oui Oui!
SOUP a L’OIGNON
Smitten Kitchen via Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1 1/2 pounds or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
A heavy-bottomed 4-quart covered saucepan
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar (helps the onions to brown)
3 tablespoons flour
2 quarts boiling brown stock, canned beef bouillon, or 1 quart of boiling water and 1 quart of stock or bouillon
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons cognac
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese
Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in the covered saucepan for 15 minutes. Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown. Sprinkle the flour and stir for three minutes.
Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes of more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning. Set aside uncovered until ready to serve. Then reheat to the simmer.
Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Pour into a soup tureen or soup cups over the round of bread and pass the cheese separately. (Or, use following instructions for a baked cheese top.)
SOUPE a’ L’OIGNON GRATINEE (Onion Soup Gratineed with Cheese)
Smitten Kitchen via Mastering the Art of French Cooking
The preceeding onion soup
A fireproof tureen or casserole or individual onion soup pots
2 ounces Swiss cheese cut into very thin slivers
1 tablespoon grated raw onion
12 to 16 rounds of hard toasted French bread
1/2 cups grated Swiss, or Swiss and Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Bring the soup to the boil and pour into the tureen or soup pots. Stir in the slivered cheese and grated onion. Float the rounds of toast on top of the soup, and spread the grated cheese over it. Sprinkle with the oil or butter. Bake for 20 minutes in the oven, then set for a minute or two under a preheated broiler to brown the top lightly. Serve immediately.