Find something you’re passionate about and stay tremendously interested in it. — Julia Child
As I sit here, Julia is taking about carbon steel knives, chopping onions, and soupe à l’oignon. I’m watching the second episode of The French Chef, and I love her. But instead of talking all about the ways I celebrated her birthday today (it involved movies, books, and mounds of caramelized onion), I want to talk about my newest passion: grad school.
And cookies. There will be cookies by the end. But first, a little story. To begin, here’s what I posted on Facebook last night:
You see, I was a little bit nervous. I’m starting a grad program in art history in just a few days, and I’m thrilled about that. But the first step is proving language proficiency — French language proficiency. And that? That, I was less thrilled about. In part because I’m a nerd. I was a French major, for merde‘s sake, but I feel I’ve regressed these past six years (!!!) with little practice beyond occasionally making my Facebook posts (even more) pretentious. I second-guess myself, I fret, I worry, I mourn the loss of those skills I once owned: knowing the when to use the subjunctive, when to use the plus-que parfait, what to do with a preceding direct object, and how to conjugate, well, anything. I feel like a failure, a traitor to the subject I loved so much. There surely is a council of French teachers, meeting weekly or so in some locked-away classroom, for the sole purpose of grading the continuing use of French by their former students. That Laure-Renée, they must say, she had such promise, such enthusiasm for the language. And did she ever have a charming way of saying tarte flambée! But now? Quel horreur! What a mess. She should probably return her diploma. At least that’s what happens in my head.
So knowing I’d be locked in a room with 90 minutes to translate as much as possible of an article from French into English, I formulated a battle plan: take the biggest dictionary I owned, write fiendishly fast, and don’t skip over words.
(In college, I read most literature assignments just skipping words that didn’t immediately compute. She verbed. She was adjective. Noun ran. But sometimes? Those little words and simple sentences matter. Example: Madame Bovary. Very important plot moment. Quand on partit de Tostes, au mois de mars, madame Bovary était enceinte . I missed it completely.)
I called upon every Gallic talisman I could think of. My giant La Rousse dictionary. My totebag from Bayeux with tapestry scenes of William the Conqueror printed on it. I took to heart the kind words and well-wishes my personal French pantheon left on Facebook. I counted on Julia’s divine wisdom about being passionate in my interests. I prayed.
And thanks to a merciful God and the support of French teachers everywhere…I think I nailed it. And let me tell you — nothing makes this nerdy heart happier than that kind of success.
So tonight, confident again in this new and exciting project, looking forward to whatever comes next, only cookies will do. Et voilà! A clean-out-the-cupboard cookie recipe in celebration of The French Chef, French tests, and finding the things you love.
Et Voilà! Chocolate Chunk Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
Chocolate. Whatever you have. (5 ounces of semi-sweet baking chocolate squares? Sure!) Chop it up.
Sea salt, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 350.
Since this is a spontaneous, clean-out-the-cupboard situation, it’s unlikely that you have 1 cup of softened butter already. So do this. Microwave cold butter on 10 percent power for about 2.5 minutes, turning once. Your butter should be soft, but still a little chilly. Perfect.
Cream the butter and sugars together. Add eggs and mix until incorporated. Add the vanilla, quickly mix in. Add flour, soda, and salt; mix until incorporated.
Stir in whatever chocolate you have. Chopped up Easter bunny? Leftover baking squares (anything but unsweetened!)? Half a bag of chocolate chips? Whatever works.
Drop by the spoonful onto a greased cookie sheet or silicon baking mat.
Now here’s the good part: gently press each cookie just a little bit so there’s more surface area on top. Now sprinkle sea salt liberally on each one. Trust me.
Bake until just golden on the edges (so they stay a little gooey). Cool on the sheet for a few minutes, then move to wax paper on the kitchen counter.
Pour a big glass of milk. Eat cookies for dinner. Bon appétit!