Monthly Archives: July 2010

Soup du jour + Emily = Soup des jours

Well folks, I just learned the hard way that making soup is not as easy as throwing ingredients in a pot and letting it “stew” a while.  My Friday night foray into Soupe au Pistou (perhaps another unseasoned beginner’s choice) quite nearly became a Friday night and Saturday morning foray.  Too bad I told my parents I was taking care of dinner…

Soupe au Pistou is basically vegetable soup with a basil-garlic-Parmesan topping, right?  (I do realize I am grossly oversimplifying the magnificence of this French soup, but the list of ingredients does resemble a grocery list of nearly every summer vegi.)  So, when I got home from work, I opened up the fridge and grabbed carrots, green beans, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, and a bowl of soaked Flageolets, the “caviar of beans” that my Dad generously bought me (nonetheless stating that “at $8 for 12oz, these things better be good”).  Double checking my list, I opened the spice drawer to find the garlic, only to realize we were out.

But I was making this darn soup.  So, I hopped in the car and headed to the store, just to buy 50 cents’ worth of garlic.  By the time I got back home, it was nearly six.

My second cooking epiphany of the day occurred when I remembered that items on an ingredients list don’t peel, dice, or chop themselves.  I tend to eyeball the length of a recipe to judge whether I can handle it — usually eliminating anything that takes four or more “paragraphs” of preparation.  I figured this one was okay, with two very chunky paragraphs of to-dos.  What I didn’t notice was that every single vegetable was supposed to have been pre-sliced and diced.  What?!  You don’t just throw whole carrots in there?  I have to peel the potatoes?  This may seem like a no-brainer, but I suppose I didn’t take into account that preparing this quantity of vegetables would take an hour in itself.  Magically, the clock struck seven and there was still no pot on the burner.  I did, however, have a very colorful assortment of vegis!

At about this time, Mom began asking whether dinner would be ready anytime soon.  She said it so nicely, not wanting to discourage me, but the way she looked at that bare burner made me a little antsy.  “I’m almost ready!” I insisted.  She looked at the burner, not even pre-heating an empty pot.

“Maybe we should have a backup plan.” She said.

At 7:25, things were looking grim for the night’s dinner.  The onions were translucent and the beans were cooking, and I was following the directions to the tee, but Mom decided to bail me out.  Dad was almost home and we needed to have something ready.  Before I could finish saying, “Okay, I guess that’s a good idea,” she had whipped out a skillet and opened a can of diced tomatoes and was well on her way to making the best impromptu pasta dish ever. Damn these intuitive cooks.

As we ate, I kept looking at my soup, not knowing exactly what was going on.  Things weren’t cooking at the “proper” rates.  I had added orzo when it said to add orzo, but then needed extra cooking time for the potatoes, so the orzo swelled to inordinate proportions — way beyond al dente.  Then I made the pistou using the blender for lack of mortar and pestle, which probably is not comparable, at least by French standards.

I threw in the towel around ten, five hours after initial preparations had begun.  I figured I would try it in the morning, and that if it were edible, we’d have food for at least five months.  If not, I had peeled, sliced, diced, and (over)cooked a bunch of vegis–and some very expensive beans–for sheer learning experience.  I’ll leave you to imagine the outcome. (The lack of photos being a good indicator…)

As I was going to bed, I heard Mom recounting her evening to a friend on the phone.  “Well, we ended up eating kind of late,” she said, giggling.  She tossed a good-hearted smile my way before explaining,  “Emily’s soup of the day might  end up taking DAYS.”

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Filed under Laugh it off, Recipes/Cooking

Super Salad: eat and be inspired

My mom is a great cook.  She’s one of those naturals who, out of love for health and the desire for her family’s well-being, chooses the purest ingredients and whips up the best meals — and not just around the holidays. Growing up I never ate burgers or mac and cheese, but developed a (snobbish?) taste for tuna steaks and eggplant parmesan and Caprese salads. Surprisingly, although I always acknowledged Mom’s flair, I never took an interest in learning to cook.  I don’t really know why.  Maybe it was the part of me that swore I’d never grow up, that Mommy would be there to cook for me always.

Well, when I graduated from college with two degrees and an F- in the kitchen, I decided that one of my “New Summer’s Resolutions” would be to learn to cook.  Or at least some basics of cooking.

Because I am leaving for France in September, and it’d be a darn shame if I couldn’t replicate some of Mom’s healthy comfort food — or just make myself a good dinner in the country that’s known to have the best ingredients on the market.

So far I’ve bitten off (almost) more than I can chew.  I bought Mireille Guiliano’s cookbook (You know — that lovely lady of French Women Don’t Get Fat fame) and made Salmon en Papillote (wrapped up like a present in parchment paper), then Chicken en Papillote…a bit fancy for my beginner status.  Leave it to me to dive right in.

Yesterday I made a simple salad with pears and gorgonzola, but I was impressed with the outcome because it was one of the first times I worked without a recipe.  Mom, Aunt Caroline, and I had eaten at The Butterfly Garden a few weeks back and after all three of us indulged in the same salad, I became determined to replicate it off the cuff.  It took a few weeks to face the challenge, but, I did it.  The secret was in the “finishing touches” that made the salad different from typical old spinach with pear.  I candied the pecans (which turned out to be really easy! Hooray!).  I made a special Dijon vinaigrette with honey to sweeten it a bit.  And, I arranged the servings individually.  That’s it!  It was so yummy.  And it gave me confidence.  I’ve been “cooking” for a month now, and things are starting to look up.

As a matter of fact, I just read David Lebovitz’s post about interning at a French restaurant.  Maybe I’m too big for my britches, but now that I’ve made this salad, I might raise the bar a bit: I could become a stagiere in France…

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Filed under Adventure, Inspiration, Recipes/Cooking

Suddenly half the world is Mine

I sped a little on my way home from work at the restaurant today.  Okay, I sped a little more than I usually do on my way home from work.   I was sure — as I have been every day for a little over a week now — that I would receive the package I have been waiting for.  After a week of alternately running out to the mailbox in the rain, tiptoeing barefooted across the gravel, or throwing the door open and yelling dramatically, “Did anything come for me today?” to anyone, anywhere in the house, I picked up the brown envelope nonchalantly and stared at it for a minute.

There, in perfectly typical French handwriting was my name and address, and in the upper left corner: Academie de Dijon. Inside was the golden ticket I’ve been waiting for — and as I pulled it out I read, in French, “Mademoiselle, I have the honor of informing you that you have been assigned to the Academie of Dijon for the school year 2010-2011, and that you will assist in the primary schools, the names of which will be forthcoming...– Le Recteur de l’Academie, Alain Blanc”

This formal document, stamped by the “Ministere de l’emploi et de la solidarite” proves that I am eligible for a French work visa, and that I have been hired to teach English in France! Beginning this October!

And so, with this golden ticket, the adventure begins: first to Chicago to apply for the visa, then on to France to begin my year as an English Language Assistant.  Monsieur le Recteur, l’honneur is all mine.

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Filed under Adventure, Inspiration, Travel