My French Onion Soup Haiku 
hot bubbling crock
onions, beef broth, Gruyere cheese
melting down the sides …
When I am craving classic comfort food, a signature lunchtime staple comes to mind: French Onion Soup.
The origin of onion soups can be traced all the way back to ancient Roman times.  (Reinforcing my belief that all good food originates in Italy!)  “French Onion Soup,” the version that combined beef broth with caramelized onions, originated in France in the 8th Century.  This soup became popular in the United States in the 1960s, when the nation experienced a surge in French cooking.  This trend was due to the publishing of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 1962.  
French Onion Soup is still wildly popular in restaurants across the U.S. today.  It is usually served with croutons or bread and melted Gruyere cheese, which is to many people, the best part. Authentic Gruyere cheese, however, is not really French. It is Swiss, named after the town of Gruyeres in Switzerland. The French versions of Gruyere cheese are Comte and Beauford. A notable difference between the two is that in accordance with French law, French Gruyere cheese has holes in it, whereas Swiss Gruyere does not.  Gruyere cheese has a salty, nutty flavor and is oven creamy.
I love to order French onion soup for lunch in restaurants on snowy days. There’s nothing like breaking open that golden cheesy crust that engulfs the crock of the hot onion broth. What’s even better is the little slice of heaven that is tucked under the cheese: the baguette. It’s love at first bite.
You don’t have to go to a restaurant to experience this soup – it’s easy to make in the comfort of your own home.  If you have broth, onions, and some red wine in your pantry, you’re all set!   This recipe is rich and flavorful.  I substituted 2% Swiss cheese slices instead of the Gruyere to drastically cut down on the cost of the soup, as well as the calorie and fat content without sacrificing any flavor.  The buttery, cheesy and crunchy comforting goodness of this soup is hard to resist on a cold winter’s night!
Fairytale French Onion Soup
Serves 4-6
4 large onions
2 tablespoons of butter
6 cups of beef broth (you can use chicken if you don’t have it but beef gives a heartier flavor)
1/2 cup of red wine
2 bay leafs
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together.
Pam cooking spray
2 sourdough rolls or French baguette
Kraft 2% Swiss Cheese Slices (8 slices)
Salt and pepper
Peel and cut onions in 1/4 inch slices. Melt the butter in a dutch oven. Add the onions, sprinkle with some salt, and cook down over medium-high heat until the onions are soft and have some color, at least 10 minutes. (You want them to be soft and tender, not completely caramelized.) Add the broth, wine, bay leaves, and thyme. Simmer on medium low heat for 30 minutes. 
Meanwhile, slice the rolls into 3/4 inch slices and spray with Pam butter cooking spray.  Place under the broiler and lightly brown each side.
When soup is ready, remove the bay leaves and thyme bundle. Ladle soup into 4 crocks/soup ramekins.  Top with toasted bread and 2 slices of Swiss cheese.  Bake at 425 degrees or until cheese is melted and bubbling. (You can use the broiler if necessary for two minutes.)

I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Julie Powell, author of the bestselling book Julie and Julia, which chronicles her experience as a blogger attempting to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Powell’s book was famously made into the movie Julie and Julia, produced by famed women’s writer Nora Ephron. It earned Meryl Streep an Oscar nod for best actress for her portrayal of Julia Child. Julie Powell was portrayed by Amy Adams. (See my posting for Julia Child’s Beef Bourgninon.)

Julie Powell was very vivacious in person.  She spoke very poignantly about her experience as one of the first well known bloggers and detailed the trials and tribulations of turning her beloved blog into a book.  She was very down to earth, honest, and humble. She was also hilarious!

Powell appeared pretty pleased with the way in which Amy Adams portrayed her in the movie. She also praised Meryl Streep’s accurate portrayal of the effervescient Julia Child. “Meryl Streep recognized Julia Child was a feminist in her own right,” said Julie. “She was not a slave in the kitchen, she was in the kitchen because she wanted to be.”  (After all, isn’t that what the feminist movement was all about? Giving women the power to chose what they would like to do with their lives?) The pioneer side of Julia Child, a major theme in the movie, is one of the things that makes her so loveable and admirable. 

Powell also stated that the scene in which she is seen uncomfortably gnawing on a breadstick over brunch with her judgmental group of “friends”  never happened. “I have great friends,” Powell said, pointing out that the scene was signature of Nora Ephron. “My friends are nice!”

What really did happen was Powell’s letdown after learning that the most influential person in her career really didn’t like her: Julia Child.  In the movie, a tearful Amy Adams learns that Julia Child does not like her because she felt that her language was distasteful and her blog turned French cooking into a joke.  Powell gracefully acknowledged this point in her lecture but cleverly and wisely shared the lesson she learned from the experience: the only person you have to answer to at the end of the day is yourself. The only critic that really matters is you. You have to live with the choices you make in life and the path you take.  Powell knew that her admiration for Julia Child was sincere, as were her intentions for blogging about cooking her way through Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”  And while Julia Child may not have fully understood Powell’s methods, Powell undoubtedly is responsible for introducing the legend that is Julia Child to a whole new generation of food lovers.

Powell spoke about her experience interning at a butcher shop in upstate New York, the premise and setting for her most recent book, Cleaving.  Much of the buzz about her new book, however, hasn’t been focused on her meat cutting skills but rather on the book’s candid account of Powell’s romantic affair and the subsequent unraveling of her relationship with her husband.  She spoke about how her marriage was portrayed about as perfect in Julia and Julia and that everyone she met loved her perfect, supportive husband.  In reality, Powell said, no one is perfect but a real marriage is one that takes work and requires love and forgiveness.  (In the end, that hard work combined with true love, conquered all and Powell’s marriage survived.)  Powell also pointed out the difficulty of writing about family and friends in her life, stating “As a writer, you have an obligation to be truthful while preserving the integrity of the people in your life.” 

One of her most inspiring, and perhaps understated, message from Powell’s lecture came as a response to a question from a young twenty-somthing student who wanted advice on how to figure out what to do with her life.   Powell explained that she really just followed her heart and did what she wanted to do, even other people criticized her or thought she was crazy.  Her drive and relentless spirit is another similarity that Powell has with Child. “You have to see what really works for you,” said Powell. “Listen to your true voice.” 
Thank you to the Lackawanna Public Library for bringing Julie Powell to Scranton!