Being of Irish ancestry, I was taught that the Brits were the enemy. They turned the land of my fore fathers into a serfdom, starved the inhabitants and drove those well enough to travel, into exile. English invaders outlawed our hallowed Catholic faith and education, over took our churches and cathedrals, making them their own!
In traveling the continent, the UK and the Irish republic, I have found, however, that two generations and one hundred years have done much to soften the sting of British imperialism.
They are in fact, quite nice people. Most Brits are very friendly, eager to offer assistance to travelers (english speaking) and are most satisfied in their current state. These are folks you'd like to have as neighbors; dad drinks a little too much, mom tends to share privileged information on anyone and the kids are wise beyond their years.
Brits remind me of Oregonians who read; pale, educated, ruddy and pleasant.
They will sit there and hold their tongues on a topic till an invitation is extended either by gesture or comment.
"These tomatoes look nice," one could remark in a market, "Yes, they do..." a Brit would reply candidly.
"How d'ya think they grow them so nice her in England?" I would ask.
"They DON'T!" the shopper would snap, "they're either from Italy or North Africa...we caunt grow them here...the Bloody French pinch the good ones, too, on the way to England. These are the seconds!"
(O-kayyyy, a little animosity here...)
Lisa and I had spent 3 months in the UK and Europe during our honeymoon in 1990. The last leg of our journey was up from Portugal, through Bordeaux and into Paris for the train ride to London. After I smoked enough Cuban cigars to choke a mule, we boarded a train that would take us under the English Channel and into familiar language for the first time in 60 days. We checked into a B&B late that night in Folkstone on the Channel. It was up the hill and a stone's throw from the depot. Our hostess couldn't have been more welcoming; she was big-lady huggable: glasses, heavy-set, house coat, plump, rosy cheeks. A TV blared in the adjacent room behind a louvred glass door; father layed in his recliner, shoes off, dark socks on, looking at the paper but not really reading in his Vinny t-shirt and half-specs draped with a chain.
We awoke the next morning to the comforting aroma of bacon cooking, potatoes frying and tomatoes grilling. Lisa and I laughed in a bed that was so thick with blankets and comforters, we thought we would suffocate.
"I feel like we're home," Lisa said to the lady as we shuffled into the kitchen and sat at the table to enjoy our choice of tea or instant coffee. The lady smiled and commented that she wells with a great satisfaction when Americans stay and feel at home with a good English breakfast.
"Oh, but, we had SO much great food in Italy, France and Portugal. Gosh, the risotto, cheeses, grilled sardines...there was SO much wonderful cuisine on the continent," we continued, "but, to have eggs, bacon, potatoes, coffee...WOW! This is even BETTER than home after all the European fare."
"Oh now, you're being too kind," our hostess feigned,"we're just simple country folk, you know..."
"That may be," Lisa countered, "but, we cherish the beauty of simplicity done right!"
"Speaking of 'simplicity'...remember that onion soup with truffles in the Dordogne valley of France? That was exquisite..."
Our endearing, maternal hostess rose, clearing our empty plates with a huff,
"Bloody French..." she muttered and dropped them into a soapy sink.
Here's a recipe that is sure to inspire admiration and not scorn...
French Onion Soup (serves 8-10)
8 Onions, yellow, med, sliced (not rings!)
2 ribs Celery, diced
1/4 C. Cooking oil, (olive, canola, duck fat, whatever!)
1/4 C. Garlic, chopped
1T. Thyme, fresh, chopped
2 Bay Leaf, whole
1 gal. Chicken, Beef or Duck stock (from bones puh-leez!)
8-10 bread slices, artisan stuff
8-10 slices of some kinda Swiss cheese; Gruyere, Emmantaler, etc.
Saute' onions and celery with the oil in an 8 qt. pot. As the onions cook and reduce in volume, reduce your heat so things don't get black on the bottom. We want to allow the onions to get a little bit of color, some browning, but not black (that is the bitter, unappetizing flavor). This requires constant monitoring and attention. Stir the onions, check the bottom of the pot. DON'T go out and prune three rows of vines and think all will be well. It won't! Cooking the onions is a chemical process: we convert starches of the onion to simple sugars by way of heat. These simple sugars caramelize and give us the wonderful color for onion soup.
Now add the garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Scrape the bottom of the pot with your wooden spoon to cajole the remnant bits of 'onion sugar' from the bottom.
Reduce to a simmer for 2 hours.
When ready to serve, adjust salt to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a crusty, cheesy, toasted slice of bread on top.
The savory character of the stock marries with the natural sweetness of caramelized onion sugars. Fresh herbs make it garden simple.
The 'Bloody French' have got it goin' on with this classic preparation.
Just add lotsa wine...
Take care, and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends...
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things."
God bless, Chef BQ.