The weather here has been down right chilly.
By chilly, I mean unbearably cold and a good reason to turn into a bear just so you can hibernate and skip this whole frozen tundra think until spring.
It’s been so cold I’ve taken to minimizing all my outings into one or two trips so that I won’t be exposed to the elements, but sometimes the elements win. Take last Sunday for example.
I was just putting on the finishing touches (and let me tell you, it takes lots of touches to get me ready) to leave the house for church when all the sudden, I heard on the skylight plink…plink…plink….plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, plink! plink! plink! plink! plink! plinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplinkplink.
That was sleet falling. On a stinkin’ cold day. Right before we were to get out and drive a good distance.
Normally, here is where I say, “Perhaps we should stay home.” Because not only am I a wimp in this weather, I’m a heathen too. Missing worship time together especially for reasons such as this one, though sad, would not bother my conscience in the least. God knows what’s what and he sent that sleet, so I’m pretty sure that he wouldn’t be shocked at people choosing to stay home rather than crash on the way too or from church.
But this time I didn’t say a thing. I simply finished brushing my hair and stepped out of the bathroom to find my shoes.
“Hey Shalee, what would you say if we stayed home and had our own devotional here? The streets are going to be pretty slick out there and I think it would be smarter for us to stay in,” declared Mr. Right as I walked into the bedroom.
Sweet music to my ears because it was really coming down now. Of course I agreed and we went to share the idea with the kids.
Can I just tell you that it’s pretty neat experiencing home church with your family? Mr. Right pulled out a family devotional book and did a couple of lessons out of it, inviting us to participate in the answers to the questions given. The Boy and The Girl read scriptures that went along with the lessons. I led singing, focusing on scriptures that have been set to tunes. (There are a lot of them!) Then we ended with communion.
Ask me what was in our cup for it. We didn’t have any grape juice, but we did have fruit of the vine. :) The kids were none too pleased with the wine, but they drank the tiny, tiniest little amount, making faces afterwards.
Maybe it will help them to remember better that the cross was a bitter sacrifice given on our behalf.
As I was getting things ready for lunch, I kept thinking that though we couldn’t get out (the snow was really falling quite beautifully over the now frozen sheet of ice), there was no reason why we couldn’t invite our neighbors who we really haven’t seen for some time, except in passing, over for dinner. I tossed the idea out to Mr. Right and he agreed that it would be wonderful to gather with them. I said I would make soups and they can bring some kind of sides.
He donned his coat and shoes and left to see if anyone would be interested.
He returned about 15 minutes later to announce that everyone said yes. I now had 20 to feed for dinner! Ack!
So I set my mind (and my body) in the kitchen to create a plan that would work with what I had… because I was not going out to get a blessed thing.
This dinner would be the first where I was the one actually cooking. Though I didn’t want to “wow” them, I did want to show them that I knew my way around the kitchen, other than making pies. Future night’s gathering rested on how well this night would go. So there was a little weight to the success of my cooking. All in my mind, I know. But y’all are used to my crazy talk by now, so just shake your heads at me, roll your eyes, sit back and enjoy the show.
I had purchased some beef on Saturday, so I thought boeuf bourguignon would be a hearty selection, only rather than creating a stew, I would alter the recipe to create a thick soup. I had everything except the mushrooms (which was just fine with me – blech), so that was an automatic go. I started preparing that entree immediately for the cook time on boeuf bourguignon by itself is 3 hours. I needed additional simmer time to infuse fully the flavors into the broth.
Now for a second soup. I had just had a conversation with my friend Nichole the previous night on the merits and savoriness of French onion soup, how the onions aren’t a prevalent taste in it, but the beef broth is accentuated with a sweetness of the vegetable. This rich, but subtle dish was pleasing to the palate without overwhelming taste buds with onions. (You’d expect it to be sharp and and powerful with pounds of onions involved, but it’s not! Even people who don’t care for the taste of onions would find the soup to be more of a beef robust flavor than oniony!)
I had only ever made one French onion soup, and though it was delicious, I made it the traditional way where it caramelized for hours as it browned and reduced in the oven. I wanted that soup, but not the hours in the oven part. Surely I could find a traditional recipe without the hours of preparation needed.
I looked over and spotted a French cookbook that my mother-in-awe gave me a couple of years ago. I opened it up and voila! The exact recipe I needed was staring back at me as I opened the book.
It was destiny, I tell you!
Reviewing the ingredients, I had everything needed (or could make what was needed), even down to the Swiss cheese. I had purchased some for The Girl’s lunch sandwiches, but since I bought it at Sam’s, I had oodles to spare. And the big kicker? From prep to finish was at the most, 2 hours. Perfect!
It did call for French bread (for the topping), so I started making bread right away. Someday, I should try to make the bread without use of my KitchenAid. I bet I would either never do it again and would continue to praise my appliance as the best thing ever or else I would develop shoulder muscles finally. Either way, it would be a win-win. I’ll stick with the KitchenAid route, I think. Knowing me, I’d want to cry half-way through the mixing, cursing my nod to pre-appliance days.
Sometimes I think I am Wonder Woman, but I don’t need to self-create the scenarios that prove I am not.
I alternated my time between the boeuf bourguignon creation and the French onion soup prep.
For anyone listening who knows that I love kitchen appliances, I would like to state that a mandolin would not be unappreciated in my kitchen! (Here is where I specify that I don’t mean the instrument. If you want to get me one of those, please send the artist who could play it along with the instrument. I’m too busy cooking to learn how to play.) But if you understand that I mean the slicer, then we’re on the same page. And I want one.
Do you have any idea how time consuming it is to slice thinly 4 pounds of onions? I actually loved the process, but now I understand why the time given for prep with this meal! Satisfying though the actions were, I’m sure I’d feel just as happy were I to have used a mandolin to slice them in a fraction of the time.
So I had everything well under control with two vast pots of soup nearing perfection when Mr. Right, an hour before anyone arrived, said, “I don’t think we have enough. Can you make another soup, maybe one that would be more kid-friendly?”
After picking my eyeballs off the floor and putting them back in, I huffed and said, “Are you insane? Why are telling me this now with only an hour to go? I’ll see what I can do…”
He started suggesting all sorts of soups – chicken noodle soup, tomato soup (which I nixed right away because we had decided the kids would eat on the floor in the living room… where we have beige carpet), ramen (I am NOT serving ramen on the first dinner at our place!), but I thanked him for his suggestions and then chased him away. I sat down in front of my pantry to stare at the ingredients there, letting my little grey cells set to work.
It was too late for taco soup. I didn’t have any beans soaked for a ham and bean soup, I didn’t have broccoli for a broccoli cheese soup. No. No. No. Bah.
I settled on a meal that my mom would create whenever I wasn’t feeling well. She would make a creamy chicken soup and add really fine noodles to it. It’s still sort of my go to comfort food when I’m feeling unwell. There’s something about the creamy taste and the texture of the noodles that fills the tummy and the soul at the same time. Decision in hand, I set to prepare that meal too.
So at 6 on the dot, I was ready to serve all three fine offerings… and hope that they would be well-received.
Our neighbors arrived within minutes of each other. They were so excited to gather! I can’t tell you how many times we heard, “This was such a fantastic idea!” or “We were just saying that we miss seeing each other!”
They brought fantastic sides to compliment what was already there. We had a huge salad, a delicious chicken and orza dish, a big bowl of fruit salad, wines, beer, brownies, chocolate chip banana bread… it was a wonderful spread!
Everyone served up and set to eating. We laughed and talked and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was wonderful catching up with what had happened since we last gathered.
Heather, the neighbor immediately to our right, said, “Shalee, I have a complaint. You’ve lived here a year and a half and you cook this well and this is the first time that you’ve invited us over?!”
Lots of agreements were voiced from around the house.
“This French onion soup is absolutely delicious!” Matt added. ”I’ve taken two bowls and I’m eying a third over there.”
Courtney said, “I can’t get enough of your beef soup! I’m on my second bowl already.”
Candice continued, “I need the recipe for that creamy noodle soup made. My kids gobbled it up.”
Riley added, “It wasn’t just the kids. I loved it!”
Jeff quipped, “Yeah, you should invite us over every month for soup. I’ll sign up for that meal.”
“Does it have to be soup?” I asked. ”Can I move into different entrees or have I just limited myself?”
Heather answered, “I have a feeling that whatever you make will taste mighty fine. I’ll eat whatever you put in front of me. This is some good eats. You are quite the chef.”
And with that, I smiled widely and sighed with relief. It’s nice to have a place in this circle of friends.
We finished the evening with a round of Apples to Apples, a great game to enjoy with 10 people. The Boy even joined us. It was interesting and embarrassing at the same time to watch as he played judge. With a middle school history teacher sitting right next to him, he proclaimed that he had no idea who Eleanor Roosevelt was , who Saddam Hussein was/what he did or what the Challenger Shuttle significance was. He had at least heard of some of the names. I looked at Courtney (the aforementioned teacher) and apologized for his lack of knowledge and asked if would she like to do history lessons on the side in the summer. She thought about it for two seconds and said, “Sure! I think we can get him up to speed. But don’t worry about him. He’s just like most of the other middle schoolers I teach every day.”
We all bid adieu around 9 PM. It was a long day, but oh so much fun. I could easily do another one of those dinners soon.
Maybe next time I’ll go Italian and make a lasagna! :)