Since Clara’s birth, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “and that’s why I could never have kids” in response to something I said. It doesn’t really bother me because I realize not everyone wants (or is ready) to be a parent. Usually, I just smile and nod and remark how easy it is to adjust to life with a baby. People’s horrified faces when they find out Clara stopped sleeping through the night when she started teething tell me that not everyone agrees, and that’s okay. You live through it and maybe drink a little more coffee. No big deal. At least in my experience, the little challenges that have come with being a new parent are nothing compared to the intense love that I have for Clara. I feel a sense of sheer wonderment at the power of those feelings, and it sometimes makes me feel like I’m walking around with my heart outside my body.
I experienced this in the most horrible way not too long ago. You may remember that Clara had an appointment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia last month. Let me preface this by saying that everything is fine now, but we did get news we weren’t expecting. First, we were told that Clara’s left thumb is also abnormal, though not as severely as her right. With just one thumb affected, the likelihood of it being a random genetic abnormality was high, but with both thumbs affected, it seemed that there could be an underlying cause. Because of this, the specialist we saw wanted Clara tested for a life-threatening disorder (the test came back negative). As we walked to the lab to have Clara’s blood drawn, I felt like I was suffocating. I couldn’t take a deep breath and tears were streaming down my face. My thoughts were spiraling downward quickly, and I felt a level of fear I haven’t experienced before, not even when we were told earlier this year that Clara could have a heart defect. That is the hard part about being a parent – feeling so strongly for another person, more than you could have ever thought possible. It makes you vulnerable, but it also makes you indescribably happy.
The two weeks that we had to wait on Clara’s results were a roller coaster of emotions. I went from being scared of what might happen to certain that the test would come back negative and then back again pretty much every single day. We needed comfort food, and this soup provided exactly the kind of comfort we were looking for. It’s rich, warm and covered in gooey, toasted cheese. This soup is a far cry from the onion soups I’ve had before, which basically tasted like salt and not much else. The onions in this soup are slowly caramelized, which gives them a depth and richness that can’t be achieved otherwise. If you’re looking for comfort in the form of food, I can’t think of a better recipe than this one. And even if you’re not seeking comfort and simply want something hot and delicious to warm you to your bones on a cold night, this soup is perfect for that too.
Melt the butter and oil together in a large pot or Dutch oven set over low heat. Stir in the onions, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove the cover, add the salt and sugar and increase heat to medium. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 30-40 minutes or until the onions are a deep golden brown. Once the onions are fully caramelized, sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Stir in the wine, and then gradually add the stock, stirring after each addition. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a simmer and continue cooking, partially covered, for 30-40 minutes. Stir in the cognac or brandy, if using.
Heat your broiler to high (or if you have gas like us, something like 500º). Arrange 4-6 ovenproof bowls on a large baking sheet. Divide the soup evenly and stir ½ teaspoon of grated onion and 1 tablespoon of cheese into each bowl. Lightly spread the melted butter over the bread slices, then float them on top of the bowls, using as many slices as you need to cover the soup. Top with as much grated cheese as you like. Place under the broiler until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve immediately.