old classics and new beginnings: beef bourguignon (GF)

“If you must find your own path, and we have left you no easy path, then decide now to choose the hard path that lead to the life and world that you want. And don’t worry if we don’t approve of your choice.”
Stephen Colbert

I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime in just one week. Less than three days ago, I was a few hundred miles south, wandering through the narrow alleys and cobblestone streets of Charleston, visiting giant Southern oaks with a few great friends, guided by the scent of fresh pralines and a dwindling bank account. Now, I’m sitting in bed, my first night as a uni graduate, alarm set for a full day of work at digital services.

It’s almost as though nothing has changed.

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To be quite honest, I’d been ready to graduate for a while now. A few semesters, really. Finishing up both majors by your third year and spending the last few taking classes solely for the sake of still being enrolled as a full-time student while working two jobs and devoting all spare energy toward a 60-page thesis will do that to you. It was fun, like I said in my last post, but I certainly didn’t walk down the lawn with eyes glistening with emotion of lament and bittersweet heartache (please).

The break will be and is welcomed with open arms. I’m ready to spend evenings cooking in the company of Battlestar Galactica (time to finally frakking finish this series) and one of the thousand novels I’ve collected over the past four years.

But, there is still something. I’m not sure what, yet. It’s too early to tell. Regret, maybe. For nights spent in instead of taking advantage of the glorious proximity I’d had to good friends up until today. Or not getting to know professors earlier and spending free afternoons inviting them for coffee. Or failing to take advantage of a really incredible university gym.

Maybe it’s just the suffocating anxiety I keep bottled so successfully, about uncertainties and the crippling panic that ensues when considering (at least) a year of unemployment that looms so unforgivingly. There’s a happiness that it’s over, one that goes beyond the relief at being free of academic burden for some time. Peace at the thought of having been a part of such a community of brilliant minds and amazing individuals, some of whom grew into amazing friends.

But there’s also…a heaviness.

(Much of it has to do with the sudden lack of incredible university gym, not gonna lie, but I also haven’t stepped foot in it since my second year so maybe it’s also hypocrisy.)

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Stephen Colbert visited yesterday, interlacing jokes about carnal embracement of diversity with words of wisdom about an insecure yet inspiring future. The whole affair was a gentle push back into reality after a few days of travel in the south for beach week. It was the usual gang, driving a good 8 hours to a really lovely cottage in the heart of downtown. (Beach week for us means exploring a city with a really excellent food scene and spending all day walking from one eating establishment to the next.) I’d never been to the south — Florida, I feel, does not count as the south — so I was quite excited.

There weren’t nearly as many outrageous accents as I was hoping for expecting, though I suppose it has to do with Charleston’s touristy nature. In any case, it’s an adorable little city. Understated, but warm. The cottage we stayed in was a gem and had me seriously consider not returning back north and skipping out on real life graduation altogether. Lined with pastel walls, paisley furnishings, attractive plates hung up alongside black and white photographs of older times. There was a lovely little patio fixed with cobblestone and flowered hedges, where I spent quite some time lost in a book on one of the most marvelous mornings in recent memory. It felt like the very floorboards and light fixtures were baptized by decades of history and southern gentility.

We had two full days to explore, in which we walked about 30 minutes to very expensive restaurants about twice a day and daydreamed about visiting the Battery until we finally discovered (on the evening of our final night) that all the restaurants we had been going to were about two blocks from the Bay and we had been exploring the Battery all along.

There was also a really lovely tree that was begging to be climbed, but apparently that was not allowed so we spent our brief time there being blown away by its size and taking very tacky photographs in front of it. Successful trip overall, I think.

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Top: Dixie Supply Baker & Café; bottom left: Angel Oak; bottom right: chicken and waffles from DSB&C that I very desperately wanted to eat and may or may not have cried over when I realized it was almost entirely a glutinous mass.

We managed to visit the Dixie Supply Bakery & Café for brunch one morning, which, as you may see above, was graced with the presence of Guy Fieri at some point for the Food Network, and it did not disappoint. I think my morning omelets have been severely lacking in quality brie. I have also since decided that I must somehow get my hands on the Magnolias cookbook, since I ate more or less the best tuna steak of my life while there on our second night. All the while I spend my days battling a profound desire to make pralines against the lack of candy thermometer and the patience to actually cook them.

The lethargy of the south has really sunk deep into my bones. I both love it and hope fear I may never recover.

This is, according to the owner, the cottage in its pre-renovation stage about 18 months ago. He and his wife really managed to turn it into something magnificent.

This is, according to the owner, the cottage in its pre-renovation stage about 18 months ago. I was amazed.

Today’s graduation ceremonies were basically the antithesis of my southern excursion: hectic, crowded, and far too noisy for my liking. Luckily, after a lengthy, 2-hour commencement exercise during which a group of about a collective 5000 adults students very poorly walked in any semblance of order down a .33 mile long walkway, I got to skip off to one of the gardens for the philosophy ceremony.

I think about 18 students total were present. The valedictory speech presented by one of my former professors took more time than the distribution of the actual diplomas. And there was a reception that featured fresh strawberries and champagne after the 30-minute event.

I was, in short, very quickly reminded of why I decided to become a philosophy major.

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Sarcasm and cynicism aside, though, it was a humbling experience. Family attended and, truly and honestly, I felt nothing but love. Proud parents and siblings of all ages and walks of life sharing the same experience, in joy and support of daughters and brothers after some of the most important years of their lives.

One of the most remarkable TAs I had in my early years as a philosophy major defended his dissertation this spring after 8 or 9 years in the department. And today I got to stand next to his mum as she snapped photos of her son, one of the widest smiles I’ve ever seen lighting up her face.

There’s a heaviness, for sure, but there’s also reassurance. Reassurance that the hard times are worth it in the end, whether that means being given a piece of paper with a name and a major that represents years’ worth of dedication, or watching someone you love succeed in quiet and powerful affection. There have always been hard times and there will always be hard times. But sometimes we have a tendency to forget just how much we are capable of accomplishing, and how much we are capable of loving. That doesn’t make the hard times seem so daunting, I think.

Plus, when a face like this tells you that things will work out in the end, it's hard not to believe it.

Plus, when a face like this tells you that things will work out in the end, it’s hard not to believe it.

There are no photos for this recipe, as it was more or less devoured instantly through the latest episode of Game of Thrones as a celebratory meal for 4 years of late night cram sessions and hundreds of pages of essay writings. But I assure you that you can trust me on this one. If you are so inclined to find adequate visual reference, however, watch Julie & Julia. 

Beef Bourguignon
Adapted from many recipes, inspired by Ms. Julia Child
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • lots of butter
  • package of turkey bacon (about 6 oz?), chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs stew beef
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 5-6 carrots, chopped
  • half a bottle of red wine, or 2 cups grape juice plus 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 – 3 cups beef broth
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • generous heap of dried thyme
  • 2 bay leafs
  • salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
  • pound of sliced mushrooms

Method:

Make sure you have a good 4 hours or so to devote to the kitchen. Once mentally prepared, heat a large stockpot over medium flame. Melt one tablespoon of butter. Add chopped bacon and fry until crispy, working in batches if necessary. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and pat dry with a few paper towels. Place fried bacon on a large plate and set aside.

In the same pot with the rendered bacon fat, melt another tablespoon of butter. While melting, salt the stew beef on all sides. Add enough of the beef to cover the bottom of the pot and fry until browned, turning the beef with tongs until all sides are heated, working in batches. Each batch will take 6-8 minutes to brown. As you remove the browned beef, place it on the same plate as the fried bacon.

Melt yet another tablespoon of butter in the same pot. Add carrots and one of the onions and cook until softened and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the bacon and beef to the pot and stir. Add in the red wine/substitute and beef broth, adding just enough liquid that the tops of the meat and veggies are still visible. Stir in the tomato paste, thyme, bay leafs, and about a teaspoon of salt and black pepper each. Bring stew to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and let simmer for about two hours.

Once the stew has been cooking for almost two hours, heat a large pan over medium flame. Melt a tablespoon of butter. Add the remaining onion and mushrooms and sauté until browned, about 6-8 minutes. Spoon the sautéed mushrooms and onions into the stockpot with the stew and stir to incorporate. Place lid back on the pot and let simmer for an additional hour (bringing total cooking time to 3 hours).

Stew is finished when a fork pierces the beef very easily. Add more salt or pepper if necessary. Stew is best when served over baked potatoes or alongside fresh baked, crusty (gluten-free!) bread.

Notes:

  • Julia’s original recipe does add a tablespoon or two of flour to the stockpot as a thickening agent. I, however, am not so keen on the flours, so I reduce the amount of liquid added and use a bit more tomato paste. But if you are not bound to a gluten free lifestyle, by all means sprinkle in a bit of AP flour.
  • This stew is ideal for the winter, but is just as enjoyable for nights spent watching violent drama series set in Middle Ages-type eras.
  • The stew also makes for an incredibly rich meal. I recommend not eating for the entirety of the day prior to serving, as to maximize the amount you’ll comfortably be able to eat in one sitting.
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