My brother and I spent a lot of time, and ate many homemade meals, at my grandmother's house while we were growing up. That's where I learned my first lessons about cooking — especially during the holiday season, when my parents often worked extra hours and scrambled to get everything done.
Nana's house was always decorated beautifully with a big tree in the living room, greeting cards from friends hanging everywhere and a large chest that would slowly fill with gifts for friends and family as Christmas approached. She loved the season and always seemed to be enjoying herself, even in the midst of baking tray after tray of cookies, or prepping holiday menus for 14 people.
We'd head to her house after school and do our homework or draw at the table while she bustled around the kitchen making dinner. She and my grandfather always ate at 5 p.m. We'd eat with them, listening for the sound of our parents' car pulling into the driveway. The sky would be dark as midnight, a fire crackling in the fireplace.
Nana taught me how calming a good cooking project can be. She used those late-afternoon dinner preps to anchor herself during the hectic holiday season. In between managing my brother and me, preparing the house for company, shopping for gifts and volunteering at her church, she would simmer beef bones and make homemade stock for a giant pot of soup.
The lead-up to the holidays is just as busy for me now. My husband, Sam, and I work more hours, just like my parents did. Baking projects and shopping trips seem to multiply. School events monopolize many evenings. When I start to feel lost during these crazy months, I make a pot of soup. The process relaxes me, and the delicious results taste just like those cozy afternoons in Nana's kitchen.
This adaptation of Julia Child's traditional French onion soup requires cooking down a big pan of onions slowly and carefully. But, once that's done, all you have to do is wait while it simmers — and fills your house with the most delicious aroma.
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