We spent a few days in Estes Park giving our sister-in-law/sister a helping hand during her recovery. Before it was time to go, we drove around town. There were sights to behold. The Stanley Hotel sits high over the town. It is a beautifully preserved white clapboard hotel of the same era as the Coronado Hotel in San Diego and the Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire. It has one further attraction – it served as the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining, even though the very scary movie was filmed at the Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood with interiors styled after the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. Every room in the Stanley is said to be haunted, but room 217 where King stayed is the epicenter of supposed paranormal activity.
The other sight we enjoyed was the herds of elk grazing on the lawns of various homes in the city. The elk are not tame, but you certainly wouldn’t know it. I’m not sure that I would like elk in my front yard, especially during rutting season, although they probably enrich the soil.
We left Estes Park by way of the Peak-to-Peak Highway, a winding but excellent road that clings to the Front Range, including the spectacular 14’er, Long’s Peak. The day was warm; the skies were clear and deep blue; so the white snow on the peaks and the dark green of the conifer forests was truly breath-taking. We saw herds of deer and even a flock of big horn sheep.
After a short bypass on I70, we headed off into South Park (the real South Park), an enormous valley surrounded by snow-capped peaks including the Collegiate Range – Mt Princeton, Mt. Harvard, and Mt. Yale. Then we headed over the pass into the San Luis Valley decorated with a wall of several 14 thousand foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristos. It was humbling to think that the famous Mountain Men were the first Europeans to see this country, but the names of rivers – St. Vrain , Platte – reminded us of them.
Then on to New Mexico where Kit Carson hung out, and the mountains were every bit as beautiful. When we got home we discovered catkins on our backyard aspen. Spring cannot be far away.
Unfortunately, the cupboard was bare. We had a few onions, so I decided to make French onion soup. I took some modest shortcuts with Julia Child’s recipe. It turned out to be remarkably easy, and the result was delicious. It is hard to understand why French onion soup in restaurants often tastes so bland and watery.
French Onion Soup
- 3 medium yellow onions
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil + some for croutons
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 42 ounces beef stock
- ½ cup dry vermouth
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 ½-inch slices good quality bread
- garlic powder
- 4 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
- Peel the onions, and with a mandoline slice into thin rounds.
- In a heavy pot over medium-low heat, cook the onions, covered, in the butter and oil for 15 minutes until they are wilted and translucent but not browned.
- Remove the lid, stir in the salt and sugar, and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are caramelized and golden brown. Stir in the flour, and cook for a few minutes to remove the raw taste of the flour.
- Stir in the beef stock and vermouth. Bring to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add water if the soup gets too concentrated.
- In the meantime, use a pastry brush to coat both sides of the bread slices with olive oil. Sprinkle on garlic powder. Cut into ½-inch cubes and arrange on a baking sheet. Bake in the middle of a 170°F oven for 30 minutes or until the bread cubes are thoroughly dry. Stir frequently to prevent burning.
- Ladle the soup into individual soup bowls. Arrange croutons on top. Sprinkle with the grated Gruyère and set on a baking pan. Place in the middle of an oven heated to 400°F and warm until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbling, about 5 to 15 minutes. Watch carefully to prevent burning.
- Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.