My first adventure in French cooking produced more than a culinary surprise.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking had stared at me from across the kitchen for two days. The ingredients were crowded together on the counter like runners at a starting line. I wrote my previous blog, ran nine-miles, and realized suddenly when I returned, that if we were going to eat that evening, I could delay no longer. I preheated the oven, chopped four kinds of produce and cut up two types of meat, dividing them into little glass bowls. I dug through the pots and pans, wooden spoons, and measuring cups, the preparation not too different than single-handedly packing the car for a three-week family camping trip.
Lesson #1: Read the instructions carefully. The first step called to boil the bacon for ten minutes in a saucepan, heat up a tablespoon of olive oil in an oven-proof French casserole dish (I used our very American cast iron skillet), and then lightly brown the bacon. Whereas, I have no idea why you boil bacon, I followed the rules. So far, so good. Directions indicated to remove the bacon with a slotted spoon. I missed the part about DRYING the bacon before putting it in the skillet. Needless to say, even a very few drops of water and VERY hot oil do not mix. The oil shot out all over the stovetop.
After cleaning up my mess, afraid of a five-alarm fire if I didn’t, I was able to sear the beef in the same pan without incident. It appeared that things had settled down. I sauteed the chopped onions and carrots, and then realized the recipe never referred to them again. Having missed the step about the bacon, I reread the recipe four or five times, but the vegetables were orphans, no room at the inn. Lesson #2: Punt when necessary.
The pace picked up significantly. Simultaneously the beef was browning in one pan in the oven (four minutes, toss, four minutes more), quartered mushrooms dancing in butter on the left burner (six to eight minutes), cute little pearl onions braising in stock on the right (saute ten minutes and simmer for forty), and the sauce bubbling in yet another vessel. I had two timers chiming, and I am sure, a frantic look on my face. “A second pair of hands” should have been included in the list of equipment, a role known by the French as the “sous chef.” I was alone, over my head, and treading in shark-infested waters.
Long story short, we had leftovers that night. I finished the final touches to the sauce after dinner. We each took a bite and decided there was enough of my concoction to serve some guests who were coming the next evening for supper. It would work. No one would know of my disaster in the kitchen which at the time looked like a yellow-taped crime scene. It appeared that a three year old had emptied every cupboard and drawer. Bill was amused at the number of of pots, pans, bowls and utensils stacked by the sink to dry. I had to clean the stovetop three times during the course of preparation, but whoa, it smelled really good. And I didn’t die.
The next evening, we entertained two couples that we have never met before, as a part of a “dinners for six” event coordinated by the church we attend. I knew that I was in trouble when asking the compulsory question “Where are you from?”, one of the couples revealed that they had lived in France for twelve years. I could hear God chuckling. My first attempt at French cooking and God sends us a couple from FRANCE??? The husband entered the kitchen and exclaimed, “Boeuf Bourguignon!” with a real French accent. “I haven’t had that dish for such a long time,” he said. “It’s one of my favorites.” Ok, I thought, NOW I die. I looked at the back door. It sounded like a great time to escape outside and go run a marathon or two in the cold and dark.
But at the table, something happened. As he ate, our guest leaned over and remarked to his wife, “Oh, she even used those little pearl onions,” in the voice of one seeing a long-lost friend. While the rest of us enjoyed the meal, he delighted in it.
And Lesson #3 descended on my heart. God chuckled because He knew that this attempt of mine was not about me attempting a new recipe at all. When He compels us to step outside our comfort zone and we follow Him into it, something far deeper always emerges, the “raison d’etre.” God uses it to bless others.
Now to Him
who by the power at work within us
is able to do far more abundantly
than all that we ask or imagine…