The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Oh, what a pleasure that was! Mollie Katzen's handwritten and illustrated recipes that recalled some glorious time in upstate New York when a girl with an appetite could work at a funky vegetarian restaurant and jot down some tasty favorites between shifts. That one had the Pumpkin Tureen soup that Margo had made so many times when she first got the book. She loved the cheesy onion soup served from a pumpkin with a hot dash of horseradish and rye croutons. And the Cardamom Coffee Cake, full of butter, real vanilla, and rich brown sugar, said to be a favorite at the restaurant, where Margo loved to imagine the patrons picking up extras to take back to their green, grassy, shady farmhouses dotted along winding country roads.
Linda's Kitchen by Linda McCartney, Paul's first wife, the vegetarian cookbook that had initially spurred her yearlong attempt at vegetarianism (with cheese and eggs, thank you very much) right after college. Margo used to have to drag Calvin into such phases and had finally lured him in by saying that surely anything Paul would eat was good enough for them.
Because of Linda's Kitchen, Margo had dived into the world of textured vegetable protein instead of meat, and tons of soups, including a very good watercress, which she never would have tried without Linda's inspiration. It had also inspired her to get a gorgeous, long marble-topped island for prep work. Sometimes she only cooked for the aesthetic pleasure of the gleaming marble topped with rustic pottery containing bright fresh veggies, chopped to perfection.
Then Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells caught her eye, and she took it down. Some pages were stuck together from previous cooking nights, but the one she turned to, the most splattered of all, was the one for Onion Soup au Gratin, the recipe that had taught her the importance of cheese quality. No mozzarella or broken string cheeses with- maybe- a little lacy Swiss thrown on. And definitely none of the "fat-free" cheese that she'd tried in order to give Calvin a rich dish without the cholesterol.
No, for this to be great, you needed a good, aged, nutty Gruyère from what you couldn't help but imagine as the green grassy Alps of Switzerland, where the cows grazed lazily under a cheerful children's-book blue sky with puffy white clouds.
Good Gruyère was blocked into rind-covered rounds and aged in caves before being shipped fresh to the USA with a whisper of fairy-tale clouds still lingering over it. There was a cheese shop downtown that sold the best she'd ever had. She'd tried it one afternoon when she was avoiding returning home. A spunky girl in a visor and an apron had perked up as she walked by the counter, saying, "Cheese can change your life!"
The charm of her youthful innocence would have been enough to be cheered by, but the sample she handed out really did it.
The taste was beyond delicious. It was good alone, but it cried out for ham or turkey or a rich beefy broth with deep caramelized onions for soup.