FRENCH ONION SOUP & A LAND OF FIRSTS

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by Debra on January 27, 2011


Musical pairing – Leaving on a Jet Plane by Peter, Paul & Mary

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!

© 2011, Debra. All rights reserved.

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Butterpoweredbike February 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm

So many great adventures start with a shock to the system. I wonder how life would be different if we really understood at those moments that good things were to come. More of that sense comes with age, but it feels like the underlying fear is hard to overcome.

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Gretchen February 17, 2011 at 11:34 am

I LOVE French Onion soup. Hannah makes a pretty fabulous one, but I’ll have to pass this on so she can try a new version.

Your writing is beautiful. I’ve never moved far away, but I can only imagine! Arizona is a land of its’ own :)

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The Lucky Wife February 16, 2011 at 5:06 pm

It never ceases to amaze me how many different “spins” on classic recipes you can find… this sounds yummy. I love French Onion Soup so knowing the cognac is the “secret” weapon in this recipe… makes me want to try this one out for sure.

I’d like to invite you to participate in Foodie Friday. Thanks again for this recipe!

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Kim February 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm

I happen to know that this is pages 43-44 of Julia Child’s MTAOFC… because the book is still open from last night’s French Onion Soup. :-) (Nevermind the recipe is posted on the RGB blog… but the man prefers his 1977 edition book.)

So sorry to hear of your dad’s lost possessions. I know exactly how you feel about your life taking on a different trajectory. I’ve made a lot of big, life-altering decisions over the last couple of years, and every now and again, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Then – I look around me and realize I got it right. Never thought my life would be where it’s at today, but man, it’s a fun ride!

[K]

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Jeanne @ CookSister! February 1, 2011 at 8:45 am

Oh, you had me at hello… French onion soup is just one of those things I cannot resist! And how sad that your 8mm films got stolen – I went through the agonies of Hell when we shipped our stuff (including all my hard copy photos and high school diaries) over to London from South Africa. The day they arrived safely was possibly the best day of my life!

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Jamie January 31, 2011 at 9:01 am

This recipe is so different than my French husband’s lowly poor man’s version of Onion Soup (which is so flavorful, heavenly, delicious) and I so want to try your version! The beef broth, white wine and cognac must give it a heady warmth! Perfect! And the photos are beautiful! Ah, yes, I can relate to both your story and Julia’s about moving to a strange, unknown place and how it can all change the entire course of your life as well as your outlook on life. Wonderful memories…

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Shaina January 30, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Delightful! Truth be told, my family moved twice when I was a kid. Once we moved 5 miles from my grandparents’ basement to an apartment, and the very next move was into the house my parents still live in today.

I had to laugh, as I can totally hear Julia saying “Oui Oui” at the end of this post!

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Monet January 30, 2011 at 12:43 am

I love learning more about you through these personal stories. I know how hard it can be to move across the country at that age…we moved from Texas to Colorado when I was 13, and I still remember how hard that transition was. Thank you for sharing your memories with us…and thank you for sharing this amazing soup. French Onion is my absolute favorite!

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Maria January 29, 2011 at 9:37 am

The soup looks perfect!

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Barbara January 29, 2011 at 8:32 am

I guess I was lucky…my parents didn’t move until I was out of school. On the other hand, we moved ours from Michigan to Florida when they were young enough to remember. They loved it, although one went back to Michigan when he went to college and the other to the NE. But we’re still here.

Wish I could eat onion soup….I’m always tempted and it looks and smells wonderful, but it doesn’t like me!

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Anna Johnston January 28, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Beautiful memories Debra & a classic & very yummy French Onion Soup.

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Nisrine|Dinners & Dreams January 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Soupe a l’oignon is such a wonderful soup. The savory broth, the melted cheese, the bread…I love everything about it!

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Magic of Spice January 28, 2011 at 8:40 pm

I can finally leave a comment :) This is one of my favorite soups…love the cognac, looks delicious :)

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Shelby January 28, 2011 at 7:26 pm

What a nice post. I really enjoy getting to know other bloggers through their stories! This soup looks and sounds delicious! I haven’t decided just yet what I will make for V-day…but if I can do my onions in a slow cooker, then heck, this should take no time at all! Thanks!

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Cookin' Canuck January 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm

What a wonderful collection of memories. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about 8mm films & 45s.

This soup looks like the ultimate comfort food.

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Elaine January 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Well, I haven’t had Julia Child’s cooking but honestly I can’t imagine it being better than yours!

Loved the story…
E

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Belinda @zomppa January 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm

How delicious! This looks soooooo good, and love the memories! 8mm!! =) I totally remember those. Such a comfort food.

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Alison @ Ingredients, Inc. January 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm

My mouth is totally watering. OMG! Heavenly

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Paula January 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Oh Wow! My husband better not see this post. He’d ask me why I never make this for him. He loves French Onion Soup but sadly only gets it when we eat out. I think I need to bookmark this and surprise the heck out of him one day. Thanks for posting. It looks awesome.

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RJ Flamingo January 28, 2011 at 12:53 pm

French Onion Soup is probably my very favorite, and I’ve never made it myself. This must change! And soon!

Your story reminds me of when my family moved from Ohio to Miami. I was the same age as you were when we made the move, but we didn’t take much with us. In fact, my mother had a big garage sale, but I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t sell our winter coats. After all, wasn’t it summer all the time in Florida? As I write this, it’s nearly 1:00 pm and it’s only 56º F. In Miami. LOL! Kids and their ideas. :-)

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Elle January 28, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Your photos make me want some of this–immediately! It was great to read your moving day story, but so sad about some of the items getting stolen! That makes me angry. At any rate, a lovely post!

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Lana @ Never Enough Thyme January 28, 2011 at 11:49 am

What a complete life change that move had to be for your family! Probably a bit of culture shock thrown in for good measure as well. You’re so absolutely right, though, about how one moment can turn your whole life in a different direction. I’ve had a handful of those myself. And the soup….oh yes, the soup! When looking up the word “comfort” in the dictionary, there should be an accompanying picture of a bowl of onion soup :-)

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Kat January 28, 2011 at 11:43 am

Oh thanks for the idea, Matt loves French Onion Soup so this would be perfect for Valentines Night. Stumbled!

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Kim Reddin January 28, 2011 at 11:20 am

All I can say is yum!! Love the combo of flavors, textures and colors! And you are so right, homemade soup is often hard to beat!

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HeatherChristo January 28, 2011 at 11:17 am

Looks delicious- I have been thinking about making french onion soup for a while- this may put me over the edge :)

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Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies January 28, 2011 at 11:10 am

Is it wrong that I just want to dive into the bowls in the shot with the cheese before it’s melted? OMG what good cheese and good onions can do for one’s life!

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foodwanderings January 28, 2011 at 11:06 am

Love the story and your giving us a window into your childhood. Had no idea how many siblings you had but how would i?! One of my favorite soups is French onion and that is what I order at Panera’s when we are on the road and wish for a quick healthy meal, along with panini. Now I can make your version at home. Shulie

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Feast on the Cheap January 28, 2011 at 11:03 am

Oh wow, this looks incredible! You’ve done Julia proud.

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marla January 28, 2011 at 10:56 am

It is amazing where our lives can take us. I need to be more open to change. The thought of forcing solutions is always present. Gotta find the balance of making things happen & letting them happen ;) Love onion soup Debra!

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Marly January 28, 2011 at 10:54 am

What a lovely story, Debra. I mean, lovely in the telling. It sounds like an experience that left a big impact on your life. I see now as an adult you’ve hightailed it back to the real world! Of course on these long, snowy days it is tempting to wish for the warmer weather in Arizona! Thanks for this thoughtful post and another wonderful recipe. This one would be a lot of fun to veganize! My best to you.

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Brian @ A Thought For Food January 28, 2011 at 10:38 am

I so rarely have french onion soup because it’s always made with meat stock. Sigh. But it does look so very good!

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Debra January 28, 2011 at 10:45 am

Brian, My first thought was mushroom broth, and that still may work because mushrooms are most often substituted for meat. But I also think you could make this work with vegetable broth; adding both the wine and the cognac will give this the depth you’re looking for.

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Rachel @ Baked by Rachel January 28, 2011 at 10:37 am

I’m honestly not at all a fan of onions unless they’re fried and crunchy but I have had this soup on my mind periodically to try for the Mr. He’s usually up for trying almost anything. I absolutely love your story telling and you truly made me laugh over the thought of arriving in hell :)

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Lael Hazan @educatedpalate January 28, 2011 at 8:50 am

Oui Oui! I think this is the soup that all should serve on the tarmac to those who move from parts unknown. Welcoming, savory, and comforting, this is the soup that most of us love! I agree that alcohol is a necessary ingredient!

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Debra January 28, 2011 at 10:46 am

Oh Lael, if only that were true – how lovely would it be to be handed a bowl of this soup on the tarmac?! Everything is better with alcohol, yes?

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Sasa January 28, 2011 at 4:44 am

Funny, I remember arriving in Fiji with my brother for an unscheduled stop-off while we were flying as unaccompanied minors from Japan to NZ and thought exactly the same. I felt I couldn’t actually breathe! Scary stuff but look at you now girlfriend!

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The Rowdy Chowgirl January 28, 2011 at 1:45 am

Oui, Oui indeed! Luscious soup! It’s funny–I also remember stepping into that furnace heat the first time I visited Arizona, when I was 14. But I thought I was in heaven, not hell! I still love hot, hot, hot weather….

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Lana January 28, 2011 at 12:33 am

I just came back from the airport after seeing my Dad off. He has been visiting from Serbia for the last two months, and even though I was relieved that he was leaving, I was completely stricken by grief. I come back to find your post on French Onion Soup and the mention of your Dad in the first sentence.
I admit I cried. I just made French Onion Soup for my father last night, for our last supper together before he left, as it is his favorite dish of mine.
Cheers, for dear fathers, the wonderful onion soup, and good friends who make the connection!

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Nancy@acommunaltable January 27, 2011 at 11:25 pm

One of my all time favorite soups – and you are so right about the cognac – it acts like an amplifier and the soup just doesn’t “sing” without it!!!
Loved the story of your move to Arizona – didn’t like the part though about your father’s Christmas ornaments and your family’s movies being stolen… argh….

Can’t wait to see what other recipes you post using those luscious onions!!

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Adryon January 27, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Topping it with raw onion! That makes so much stinking sense, and yet I never thought to do that. I can imagine it takes it over the edge.

Consider this filed!

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