By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist
There are times I can still hear the words my long-departed mother in-law imparted upon me as a new bride and resident of her family ranch. “I don’t know why you waste so much time cooking,” she’d scold. “If you spent a little time sewing, you’d have something to show for your work.”
I’d still rather make a tiered wedding cake than sew a button on a coat, but her words echoed through my mind as I put the finishing touches on a baking project I’d spent a good twenty or more hours on, making, baking and decorating a couple dozen cookies. No one will even eat these little masterpieces. Instead they will join the other hand-crafted ornaments, made by the many Angels Over Sandpoint, and hang on our tree to be auctioned at Kinderhaven’s Festival of Trees.
If you’re like me and children make you weak in the knees, especially children in need, then mark your calendars now for myriad opportunities to help-out: donate, buy or even volunteer at the most popular holiday event in Sandpoint.
Family Night: Nov. 30, 4 to 6 p.m. Family Night is open to the public and free of charge! It’s a magical afternoon for families to gather and enjoy hot cocoa, cookies, and Santa while viewing the magnificent trees.
Holiday Luncheon: December 1, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. A silent auction, luncheon and viewing of the live decorated trees. Tickets are $50, and table sponsorships are $650 (seats eight people).
The Grand Gala Doors: Dec. 2, 5:30 p.m. Begin with hors d’ouevres, a no-host bar, and a silent auction, followed by dinner catered by Ivano’s Ristorante and a live auction of the fabulous trees and packages. Tickets are $80, and table sponsorships are $1,250 (seats eight people).
The tickets will sell out quickly, so be sure and buy yours soon. Or consider donating an item for the auction or volunteering at one of the wonderful events. Find more information at: kinderhavensandpoint.com
I’m already on to my next baking project which requires not only baking, but careful packing for its Christmas trip to Paris. I’d planned to save some of this baking for France, creating decadent holiday pastries for our holiday dinner. Few may have taken notice, but there’s currently a butter shortage (of epic proportion) in France. Yours truly has spent some anxious moments fretting over this crisis, especially when I discovered I can’t even bring my own butter along. I’ve been known to import a few questionable food items on return trips from foreign countries, and the worst that has happened is to occasionally have my items confiscated, along with an obligatory, stern warning, delivered by a surly customs official.
But exporting—well, that’s a different story. I’ve seen frightening episodes of the British series, Nothing to Declare. Since this holiday trip includes assisting my oldest daughter and her young family relocate to France for a teaching assignment, I’d hate to spoil our long anticipated, idyllic Christmas in Paris, being hauled away, along with my contraband butter, by the douanier. So I’m playing it safe and bringing along many of our traditional holiday favorites, prebaked, well-wrapped and customs-friendly (it might not be a bad idea anyhow, as I’ve yet to see any pictures of the kitchen in my perfectly envisioned Paris apartment).
I also have a vision of the spectacular Joyeux Noël feast I’m planning to prepare, worthy of M.F.K. Fisher or Julia Child, and I have this romantic notion of strolling Rue Courcelles, an adorable beret-topped grandchild in tow (just one at a time-this is my vision, thank you). We’ll window shop, before settling on a fat goose from the butcher, an array of fabulous ripe cheeses from the fromagerie and crusty baguettes from the corner boulangerie. I’m only a little worried that I speak not a word of French (though I learned on long-ago trip to Colombia that attempting the local language can be an impairment; in my best Spanish I ordered a glass of orange juice and got a ham and cheese omelet).
If all else fails, and our shopping trip fails my mountain-high expectations, I’ll save Christmas by whipping up this favorite Paris classic, French Onion Soup (yes, it really did originate in France, in the 18th century). You needn’t wait for Christmas. This is the perfect “warm me up” hearty and easy-to prepare soup for our winter-like weather. My mother in-law may have even approved.
French Onion Soup Recipe
Don’t be in a hurry – cook the onions low and slow to develop the color and flavor of the soup. I like to use a mixture of all three cheeses. If you aren’t making your own beef stock, “Better than Bullion” is an excellent base for stock.
•2 1/2 pounds yellow onions
•¼ cup butter
•2 tbs olive oil
•1 tsp salt
•Freshly ground black pepper
•2 tsp sugar
•8 cups beef broth
•3 tablespoons flour
•2-3 tsp Herbs de Provence (or other
herbs of your liking)
•1/2 cup red wine
•¼ cup cooking sherry
•6 to 8 baguette slices, grilled until
•2-3 cups shredded Gruyere, Comte or
Parmesan cheese (1/3 to 1/2 cup
•Peel onions and slice in half lengthwise, with cut side down, slice into thin, even slices. Over medium heat, melt the butter and oil in Dutch oven or heavy sauce pan.
•Add the onions and stir to coat. Reduce heat, cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes.
•Stir in 1 salt, pepper and sugar and cook the onions for 40 minutes to 1 hour: Turn the heat up to medium and cook, uncovered and stirring every few minutes, until the onions are deeply browned. Stir often so the onions don’t scorch.
Add the flour to the cooked onions and stir for an additional few minutes, stir in the red wine.
•Heat broth in separate vessel, when hot, add to the onions and the herbs; stir, lower heat and simmer for an hour.
•Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Now, add the sherry.
*At this point, you can chill overnight and reheat.
•On heavy cookie sheet, place small crock-type, oven-safe bowls, Divide the soup between bowls. Top each with a round or two of browned baguette and sprinkle grated cheese in a thick layer over the bread and up to the edge of the bowl (if some of cheese clings to sides of bowl, it won’t all sink).
•Place in oven 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, then turn oven to broil for 1-3 minutes (depending on your oven), until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbly. Don’t let it burn!
•Remove carefully from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.