For most of my life, I’ve lived with roommates. It started with my parents and brothers and continued through college, where I shared tiny rooms and decrepit houses with other young women. I didn’t mind the shared space. At times, I even enjoyed it. And there were funny memories, of course. One cold morning my junior year roommate arose early for a run. Pre-LASIK and without glasses, I half-woke to chat with her while she got dressed. At lunch that afternoon, she informed me that now she really knew how blind I was without contacts: she had been naked from the waist up throughout our entire conversation. The laughter that followed was worth the awkwardness of sharing your most intimate space with a friend.
After a year in Atlanta – and more roommates – I decided it was time to spread my wings and have my own place. When I moved back to Philly for post-bacc, I was excited to get my own apartment in Center City. It was awesome, as anticipated. I could watch TV in my underwear for hours. I didn’t have to clean up my dishes until I was good and ready to clean them. And I didn’t have to clean them after someone else had used them and left them dirty. There was no noise if I didn’t want noise. And if I decided to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s for breakfast, nobody judged me. The solitary life was pretty sweet. I wouldn’t have another roommate, I promised myself, until I moved in with the person I planned to be with forever.
Fast-forward a few years, and now I’m living with that person – and, as of last month, his daughter too. I’ve grown used to falling asleep next to a comforting presence, and to pretty much never being alone . Our little duplex is full of life, if you count the three of us and my puppy. I can’t pretend that the sounds of blasting pop music don’t annoy me sometimes, but I’ve gotten used to it.
That’s why the last couple of days were so weird. I had the house to myself while my roommates were on a school trip, and it was eerily quiet and lonely. Even Riley, the pup, seems bummed by their absence. We lay forlornly on the couch together all evening, shifting only to advance through Netflix episodes of “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta,” a show that’s shockingly entertaining to watch in marathons when the house is man-free.
There’s another thing I can do when the house is empty, and that’s cook offensive things. One such thing is onions. Now, I love onions and many meals I prepare are completely based on them. Curry? Ecuadorian potato soup with cheese and avocado? Potato latkes? There’s a trend here.
While my housemates enjoy the fruits of onion-fueled labor, they hate the process. Every single time those onions hit a hot pan and begin to sizzle, the roommates complain that it makes their eyes burn. Even when they’re in another room, the fumes apparently travel throughout the house and cause eye-scorching. I’ve never noticed this myself, but perhaps I’m immune after years of cooking.
Regardless, when I was left alone with a bit of beef broth, my dinner menu was clear. French onion soup for one: a worthwhile endeavor.
I began with a medium onion, slicing it into thin ribbons.
I added those ribbons to a little pat of butter in my brand-new tiny saucepan.
On low heat, they cooked down and finally caramelized. Towards the end, I added a small clove of garlic that I’d minced fine. When the onions were soft and brown, I splashed them with dry white wine. It bubbled away immediately.
I added about a cup of beef stock, a little sprig of thyme, and about half of a dried bay leaf. They came to a boil, then I turned the heat down low and let my soup simmer. With a few pinches of salt and a turn of black pepper, I had the perfect amount of soup for a solitary dinner.
Some love to top their French onion soup with croutons and cheese, broiling it until the cheese is crispy and gooey all at once. Personally, I’m not a fan. Even when toasted, croutons absorb lots of broth, turning a lovely bowl of soup into alternating bites of wet bread and onion. I prefer the complete soup experience. For this meal, I topped my bowl with a small handful of Emmenthaler cheese and stuck it under the broiler for a minute. Some of the cheese browned, some sank and melted – it was still tasty.
(I am not a fan of butane torches, since they can impart an odd gas flavor into the food. Yours might not – in that case, use it! If you don’t have a torch or a broiler-safe ramekin, you can still achieve the melted-cheese effect. Place a piece of toast on some aluminum foil. Pile the toast with cheese, and pop it under the broiler until the cheese is browned. Stick that cheesy toast on top of your soup and enjoy).
It is a hearty meal that brings comfort to solitude.
(If you’re lucky enough to live with folks who enjoy the scent of cooking onions, feel free to double – or quadruple! – this recipe).
Recipe: French Onion Soup for One
- 1 medium onion, sliced thin
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- Splash of dry white wine
- 1 cup beef stock
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1/2 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Small handful grated cheese (Emmenthaler, Gruyere, provolone, etc)
Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and saute, stirring frequently, until soft and brown: 20-40 minutes, according to your taste. When the onions are almost ready, add garlic and continue stirring. Splash with white wine and adjust the heat to medium-high. Allow to come to a boil, and then add beef stock, thyme, and bay leaf. Let boil again, then turn the heat down to a simmer and let the flavors meld for at least 10-20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
Top with grated cheese and enjoy!