My sister and I were watching a movie on my computer the other night and she picks up my phone and starts googling movie facts as we’re watching. I paused the film and she says, “No, no, I can multitask.” Minutes later, our Mom calls so I actually do pause the movie and I put her on speakerphone. She and my sister were jibbering on about something so I started scanning email on my phone - multitasking! Here we are supposed to be having quality time as sisters and we are half doing things and playing with devices! And when the most important woman in our life calls, I am putting my focus somewhere else...Sorry Mom!
How many things do we pay for in life? Rent. Bills. Dues (literally and figuratively.) We work hard to get those things paid, and on time, right?
And what about the things that we pay for that cost nothing? We pay tribute. We pay a compliment. Pay respects. But how often do we pay attention? I know I, for one, am a pretty inconsistent attention payer. Sometimes the smallest details are where I put my focus and then I completely miss out on the big stuff. It’s something I want to work on. I don’t want to half do things or ‘multitask’ anymore. I want to look people in the eye when they are talking to me and give them my full attention. When I watch a movie, I want all other distractions put away. When I am on the phone I want to only be listening. There really are enough minutes in the day to to do one thing at a time.
I think it goes beyond mindfulness and being present. Those are fantastic things to work on too, but the gift of my attention isn’t a concept or a practice. It is something that is part of who I am. Well, who I want to be: someone who gives my full attention. Withholding it seems kind of selfish, now that I think about it.
When we pay attention, when we really pay attention, we are better friends, wives, cooks, parents, daughters, bosses, artists, sons, husbands, etc. We are better by showing up more fully. We are better because the people in our lives will feel like they matter. And they do. We take notice of the details. We really will be getting more bang for our unspent buck. We won’t miss out on anything. Paying attention to the stars, to streetlights, our instincts, the rules, to our elders - these are all very good things.
A friend from college sent me a message a while ago saying she remembered that I hosted French onion soup parties while we were in school in St. Louis. She asked for me to share the recipe in a blog post. It is so interesting the things we remember. I wasn’t paying attention that she was paying attention to me back then! And I don’t think I would ever have thought of those parties on my own.
French onion soup is one of my favorite things to eat and for years if I saw it on a menu I had to order it. But in all the time I have been cooking in NYC, I can’t remember making it; not once. Most of my cooking is for weekly drop offs to families and you can imagine that French onion soup wouldn’t travel well. And not one dinner party or cocktail party had a request for it - it’s not really a buffet item or a passed hors d’oeuvre.
As I was writing my friend back, I was overwhelmed with the memories of my soup parties in college. I had acquired these little crocks from a garage sale and became obsessed with bubbling cheese and bread over oniony broth. I felt so retro and gourmet! I would have boyfriends over and awkwardly seduce them with my cooking. I cooked for classmates, teachers, whom ever would come for a crock of soup (or the random green bean, mushroom, wild rice, soy sauce concoction that was also one of my specialties.). Thank you, Maureen, for bringing these memories back to me. I paid tribute to the Webster Class of ’94 as I crafted this recipe, styled these pictures, and wrote this blog post.
Oh! And please pay attention when you put your little bowls under the broiler. Gooey cheese doesn’t mess around and will burn pretty quickly!
French Onion Soup
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 fresh thyme sprigs
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 quart vegetable broth
- 4 slices crusty bread
- 1/4 pound grated Swiss cheese
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and salt and pepper and cook until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 25 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wine has evaporated and the onions are dry, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Dust the onions with the flour and give them a stir. Turn the heat down to medium low so the flour doesn't burn, and cook for 5 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Now add the vegetable broth, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
When you're ready to eat, preheat the broiler. Place 4 oven proof bowls onto a cookie sheet, ladle the soup into the bowls, placing a bread slice on top of each. Top the slices with the grated cheese and broil until bubbly and golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes.