Recipe: Rustic Onion Soup
All things end. But I don’t have to like it.
That’s what I wrote the day it became clear that my Cousin Helen’s cancer was both terminal, and progressing quickly. She was just short of eighty; she lived with humor, grace, passion, and an undercurrent of strength.
My best friend called me last week to say her Dad is dying. I’m never ready for this news, always brought short by the inadequacy of words.
I took to the kitchen for my own comfort. This soup is one to make on dark, cold days – be that the external or internal forecast. It’s not fast, but you can cry as you slice the massive amount of onions, and then, as they roast in the oven for two hours, you’ll start to pull it together as their earthy aroma permeates the house.
There’s a horrible rhythm to how these kinds of terminal illnesses go; be the time span short or long. I know it well – and I’m so lucky that Helen was there in the beginning to help me the find my footing, learn the language, and guide me through the maze.
This isn’t French onion soup. It’s got the onions, it’s got the croutons, and of course it has the cheese. But most of the onions are red. There are chilies, sage, and the base? Its turkey stock – but just use whatever you have on hand. According to Michael Ruhlman, you might even be better off with water.
I couldn’t care less about the authenticity of my recipe. I like the stock. And it’s even better if you have some leftover gravy to add to the mix, as I did this week. I like to add the roasted onions to the stock and then take a brisk walk in the cold, preferably with a happy canine companion, before I put the soup under the broiler with the croutons and cheese.
Helen taught me to stand my ground, to look death in face. Give all that you can, and recognize it’s not about you. Yet.
So, I’m off to be with my friend next week. I’ll certainly make this Rustic Onion Soup and some of the other rich, simple foods in repertoire. My hope is to help sustain her strength, and make her laugh, to help her give all she can to her Dad.
Helen’s been gone three years, today. I can’t say how much I miss her. Or how grateful I am that she taught me that you can provide comfort, even at those thresholds where things change, forever.