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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Stepping stone recipes, part 3

Consommé. The day I wrote this on a recipe was the day I realized the world of food was far larger than Iowa and Wisconsin. I can still remember copying this recipe from the Minneapolis Star, the daily newspaper in my new city. I didn't cut newspapers then: I cannot say why. My mother used to cut out Dear Heloise housekeeping tips and scotchtape them around the house. I would find them stuck to cupboard doors or sticking out of books.

One of her favorites, and it's a trick I still use, was putting an apple slice in a tin of brown sugar to keep it moist. I did not follow her clipping example.

About the consommé. I loved, absolutely loved, Campbell's canned mushroom soup when I was little. It was right up there with chicken noodle, but that one was special, for days when I was sick, whereas mushroom, mmmm, I would eat it whenever allowed.

And there was my Minneapolis newspaper, suggesting there was a way to make mushroom soup from scratch! The real thing, the grandmother of the Campbell's tinned variety, and it called for something called consommé.

I can remember stirring it in the kitchen, but I have no memory at all of who ate it, besides me.

The soup had only four ingredients and the recipe said "serves 2" so it seemed within reach. It called or sherry, which I had to ask about at the liquor store. I was stumped by consommé until someone at Lund's supermarket enlightened me. Lund's was a new discovery, a beautiful supermarket with aisles filled with food I had never heard of.

It was beautiful, I remember, but it forced me to ask if I still preferred Campbell's because I was used to the taste, or because it was truly finer. At the time I didn't realize this is a critical step into adulthood - one some people never take, unfortunately - because it forces you to face the possibility that what you know seems right only because you know it.

What if there is a whole world out there that you don't yet know, and it is also "right"?

The result was that I made the soup again, most famously when I was trying to impress a new man in my life who said as I served it with finesse that he hated mushrooms. I also continued to eat the canned soup until it became too inconvenient because I lived in Europe.

And now, I'm afraid I've gone off both, but I still like mushroom soup.

Fresh mushroom soup, c. 1974 (recipe about to be discarded)
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 can chicken consommé
1 cup skim milk
2 T sherry

Wash and thinly slice mushrooms. Cook in consommé until tender and consommé is reduced. Add sherry, bring to boil, lower heat. Add milk. Garnish with fresh mushrooms and watercress leaves (I had to ask about those, too).

Today I would note that this needs salt and I would not use skim milk, for I like creamy, not milky soup.

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