Bellwether Vance

Hounds to the Left of me/Jokers to the Right

Bellwether Vance

Bellwether Vance
December 31
You'd like me. People like me.


Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 11, 2011 9:21AM

Daydreams Du Jour

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The idea took shape after a dispute with my husband regarding distribution of labor, wherein I cried, "You are so spoiled! You think everyone has two soups to choose from!" A ridiculous statement that nevertheless allowed me to win the argument and spawned a dream.

I have a fridge full of soups, sandwich spreads, marinated salads and casseroles. The freezer is stacked with containers of sauce (red chili, green chili, marinara and pesto), cooked beans, empanadas, stewed greens and discs of homemade pie dough. There is almost always a pie, cake, scones or a batch of cookies on the counter. We are a family of four and yet I cook for ten, apologetically delivering leftovers to neighbors. I think, wouldn't it be cool – just the funnest thing! – to own a restaurant?

My morning walk takes me past an abandoned restaurant. It's small (or cozy), biscuit-colored stucco, big windows shaded with black canvas awnings. This is my restaurant. I've painted the interior a grayed-down periwinkle, accents of cream, white, charcoal and bright coral. I've planted a small garden out back; herbs for my kitchen line the brick path. There's a little patio strung with vintage lights where my musician friends play acoustic sets on Friday nights. I've selected tableware and staff attire, planned a menu – which changes seasonally – right down to the fonts. 
I hustle on and the vision disappears. Behind me, the faded awnings sag, weeds strangle my basil and overtake the patio stage.
When I imagine a spacious restaurant kitchen, cooking in my cramped home kitchen is disappointing, but I make do. Our friend Sue lives nearby and drops by for dinner frequently. At the end of the evening, when the plates are sopped clean and chairs are pushed back from the table to create room for stomach expansion, invariably some version of this conversation will take place. 

My husband sighs contentedly and says, "Bell, you should open a restaurant."

I say, "Yeah, that's heaven spelled backwards."

Sue chimes in. "Seriously, you should!"

I nod agreeably. "I should poke my own eyes out."  

Unbeknownst to them, I'm already a restaurateur, accomplished chef, bon vivant. I'm hard working, wise and patient, a humanitarian, community leader and – all four lobes agree, except for a rogue group of cells in the ocular region and they are well known liars – very attractive. I am also a Grammy winner!

My nightmare is closer to the truth. I'm wrecked with fatigue, dealing with iffy kitchen workers, their rusty Ford Probes on temporary tires and probation or immigration issues. Young waitresses who spend most of their time in the bathroom, hurling last night's tequila or texting or peeing on pregnancy sticks. Suppliers who promise broccolini and deliver yellow broccoli florets. Customer-idiots who want sauce on the side and can you make it without the cilantro. And the owner! After a year of eighty-hour work weeks and superhuman enthusiasm in the face of financial ruin, she now shows up at three in the afternoon wearing a stained housecoat, the pockets full of tissues and pills.

Yes, even my daydream believer is a skeptic. My (uninsured) restaurant would go down in flames and if I came within a hundred yards of a Grammy stage I'd crap my Spanx and bawl like an emo kid. So, it's best to let my daydreams hold hands with my cracker jack self. She's made of buttery popcorn, caramel and prizes. 

But every morning as I walk past my restaurant, I ask myself  "What are our soups today?" Restaurant kitchen or home kitchen, when I'm in charge there are always two soups to choose from.

I typically make soups on Sunday or Monday – one brothy or bean soup, and another creamy soup. These two soups make a regular appearance. 

Creamy Carrot and Tomato Soup with Galangal
carrot galangal soup 

Ground galangal used to be known as Laos powder, and is similar to ground ginger. The flavor is slightly floral and peppery, without being hot. It can be difficult to find outside an Asian market, but you can find it through online spice companies like Penzey's or The Spice House. 

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup sweet yellow onion, finely diced
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes (San Marzano if they're on sale!)
5 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 tsp ground galangal
1/8 - 1/4 tsp ground red pepper (optional)
1/3 cup cream
Kosher salt to taste

In a three quart saucepan over medium-high heat, saute the onions until they are translucent and beginning to soften. Add the tomatoes, carrots and vegetable broth. Reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until the carrots are very tender. 

Using an immersion blender (or a food processor or blender, in batches) puree the soup until it's smooth. Add the galangal, red pepper (if using), and salt to taste. Simmer over very low heat for five minutes, giving the ground spices a chance to bloom. Adjust seasonings to taste. Stir in the cream. 

Vegetarian Onion and Mushroom Soup
onion mushroom soup 

In vegetarian brothy soups I like to use Wondra, a superfine flour, to slightly thicken the broth so that it mimics the body of meat stocks without adding additional fat or the opaque color of a roux. Wondra comes in a round blue canister and is sold alongside other flours. 

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 and ½ large sweet yellow onions, chopped into one inch pieces
8 oz crimini mushrooms (often labeled "baby bella"), chopped
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 heavy Tbsp vegetarian Worcestershire sauce ( anchovy-free versions are available at most health food stores.)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
3 Tbsp Wondra flour
Kosher salt and plenty of fresh black pepper.

In a large, wide-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the onions are opaque and soft, but not brown, about ten minutes. 

Turn the heat up to medium-high, and add the mushrooms and a sprinkle of salt to get them to release moisture. Cook until the mushrooms and onions are a light caramel brown and any liquid has evaporated, about five minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook until it gets sticky. Add the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and vegetable broth, making sure to scrape the nice browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Bring to a slow boil and then whisk in the Wondra flour 1 Tbsp at a time. Taste for salt and pepper (use lots of pepper!).  Serve with buttered cheese bread (I mix fontina and manchego) and a big green salad.

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Bell, if you opened a restaurant, I would give serious consideration to quitting my job, selling my house and belongings, purchasing a good sleeping bag and tent so I could camp out a few yards from the back door of your new restaurant, where I would spend the proceeds from house and belongings to pay you to feed me for life.
Such daydreaming and realism wrapped up in one tantalizing post. You (or someone close to you) has obviously worked in a restaurant and shared stories. The "nightmare" paragraph is hilarious. I've heard there might even be Saturday night servers sniffing coke from the lid of the toilet tank. But dear Bell, not in your restaurant; with you in charge yours would be the epitome of taste, two soups et al.
Those two soups are genius! Inspiring and satisfying just to read the directions. My girlfriend started a string of restaurants in the eighties in Seattle. Julia's became famous and they still are. She sold them all and moved out in the country to paint. Why don't I have her life?
Food porn and a realistic daydream all rolled into one - these soups look divine - and as always your writing - rich and flavorful.
If I won money you would get some to open that restaurant. Of course there are problems but knowing you I think you would sail right by those things.
Anyone who has two soups a day can do anything..
Post like this is why I miss your absences here. Honest. rated.
Bellwether, I enjoyed your story and the recipes look delicious! One thing I can say about restaurants: they take too far much time away from one's blogging activities!
Almost every day I have this same daydream. And with regularity my husband and daughter think they eat in a restaurant every night. Just like you I am glad they are daydreams. Loved this story and your recipes. -R-
Owning a restaurant is very hard work and it is much more fun cooking for family, friends, and neighbors, I think. The soups look absolutely delicious and your husband IS spoiled.
I am so hungry now! Great post. I love how your imagination works! I agree that it would be an incredible amount of work.
Maybe a food truck . . . featuring soups and a karoke machine so that the singing chef can both advertise, and achieve emmy-winning greatness . . . .
I have a friend who, like you, loves to cook. Once a month, she hosts a dinner for about thirty people. She sends out the menu and takes reservations until full. She has appetizers, salad, main course, and dessert. She has found a place downtown where she can cook on decent (if not ideal) equipment, and serve in almost rustic setting. One of her happy moments is designing the "look" of the dinner with table linens, chargers, fresh flowers. The day of the dinner itself is a long one, and she has helpers for serving and cleaning. Still, it is profitable, and leaves her another month full of days to think up the next menu.

That said, I love the simple soup recipes, and will surely be making them soon. Like greenheron, I would patronize any establishment that you graced.
finished this post still cheering for your daydreams....maybe you should give it a honest try...& 'cause i'm a vegetarian who's always in search of a new recipe, i'll snag the mushroom one for sunday.
i adore this piece. have had the same daydream and my spoiled Mot says the same things as your hubs (though he adds that he will franchise me and make a lot of $$, for himself presumably. hah), adding that it will be called Mama Candy's. catchy, hmm? having been a business owner (though it wasn't a restaurant) all my life, i'm sticking with the daydream of a cute sandwich shop and loving cooking in my tidy kitchen without all the complications you write so well about. great piece, bell.
I encourage you to follow your dreams. Even the day dreams. Why not. IT is a precious life and now is the time for so many things....If you see the dream and there is a path, take it. You are a wonderful writer.
What green heron said. But what would be even better I think is to write a cookbook based on your blogs and recipes and have a tv show, like Ina Garten. Then you could cook and would't have the worries of being a restauranteur unless of course you still wanted to be. And then that dream would be a real possibility. Hmm. Maybe you could find a way to rent or buy that cute neighborhood restaurant just in case.
Delightful musings, lovely photos, tantalizing recipes. A feast.
Soup! My favorite thing to cook. I'm in, Bell. Two soups and the check, please!
Darn it to heck! Sucked me into another foodie post (I forgot it was Tuesday again), thinking it was just another amazing post, and now I'm writing "Wondra" and "Galangal" in my ever-present little pocket note pad and preparing to print this out. Darn it to heck, anyway!
I forgot to point out that your first paragraph is frighteningly brilliant. Just sayin'.
I can't wait to try these!
I love soup, especially now that autumn leaves are beginning their turn...
I'd bet you'd run a great restaurant with fresh-faced-or-not, dedicated employees who can't wait to come to work and help you make a fortune!
I'm having a heavenly daydream where you ask me to dinner once a week. You entertain me with happy singing and I munch contentedly and don't have to say a word. Of course I'll want both soups because I can't decide. Do you take song requests?
I love the idea of seasonal changes of fonts on the menus. That's so - so visual and identifiable for me.
Spoiled? Growing up I usually had a choice between two soups: Campbell's Tomato or Campbell's Cream of Mushroom. Life on the culinary edge. I never understood Cream of Celery Soup.
That carrot and tomato soup sounds delish Bell. And you're right, or close enough to it, in your nightmare view of restauranteuring. It's truly a labor of love with emphasis on the labor. Long, long hours and pressures from all angles. If it's really a calling you can put up with it but for most folks it's best left to fantasy.
Darling piece (and recipes) as usual! You'd probably do great in a restaurant kitchen -- you have the resilience and skills, not to mention the charm -- but cooking in a restaurant is seriously stressful work. I know because I've done it, hated it, and sworn I'd never do it again. But I still have my daydreams when I see a cute little storefront sometimes.
Greenheron -- Now there's a plan. (Plus you could set up an easel on the patio and sell paintings, and also take care of the chickens. Did I not mention the chickens?)

Scarlett -- Oh I'd be so bamboozled. I mean, I forgot about coke. I'd think they were in the parking lot making cupcakes and that's why their noses were white and dusty.

Zanelle -- That would be the life! I'm sure she has more than a few stories to tell about the restaurant biz!

Lamm -- I fear I need a new director of photography for my food porn. It's hard to make a bowl of brown soup look sexy, and I'm not really up to the task.

Linda -- The restaurant dream is part of my lottery-winning dream, because when Mr. Vance says I should open a restaurant, he never says where the money would come from.

Jon -- Thank you! Honest self-awareness is the best way to avoid some serious pitfalls. I really would be a terrible restaurant owner.

Design -- Now that's a valid reason to put off owning a restaurant.

Christine -- You've got a lucky family. I hope they know how lucky.

Miguela -- He is soooo spoiled. I fear, however, that once you're forced to cook day in and day out on someone else's schedule that would ruin all the fun. But it's still a nice dream.

Susie -- Work. Hard work. Day after day. I'd be toast after a week.

Owl -- I did watch the Truck Race show on Food Network. That looked like a lot of fun too. Karaoke you say!?

Dianaani -- That sounds like the perfect compromise. The fact that I'm exhausted thinking about a dinner party for thirty once a month tells me I'm right to keep on walking.

Renatta -- We have NO vegetarian restaurants in our city. None. Nada. Which is why we eat at home a lot (although we're pescatarians).

Candace -- Mama Candy's! I've got a theme all mapped out...

Sheila -- One day, maybe. I do keep looking at my children -- both artists (one working as a restaurant cook and the other working as a waitress) and think that I'd at least be able to give them JOBS.

Lea -- On a TV show I'd be like Bobby Brady, mutely watching that red light. But I am working on a memoir/cookbook.

Sophieh -- Soup and sandwiches are my favorite meals, a feast. It's good to know someone else agrees.

Mhold -- When we go out I almost always order soup. I've never actually ordered two in one sitting.'ve blown my mind.

Matt -- Well, it is a Holiday Tuesday which means it feels like a Monday. Wondra flour is an amazing ingredient. It's great for soups, stews and gravies and pot-pie fillings and also as a coating for calamari or really fresh fish when you want a very thin crispy sear but not a bunch of breading.

Just Thinking -- I love your optimism. :)

l'Heure -- Come knock on the door. There's always extra food. I do song requests but I'm apt to change the lyrics.

Fusun -- I'm a bit of a fontaholic. Only two at at a time though (one serif, one sans I was taught in my typesetting class).

Stim -- I actually do make a nice cream of celery. Still it IS likely to be on the menu at the end of the week when all I have left in the produce drawer is celery.

Julie -- Love YOU!

Abrawang -- Thanks for confirming my beliefs. Every restaurant owner I know says the same thing. Though they admit to enjoying what they do, they are all very tired.

Felicia -- My son works as a restaurant cook (for two different restaurants) and he loves it. But he's young and energetic and not financially responsible. That would be the worst, I think -- having to expend the energy AND the money!
Well, Bell, if you need a reliable waitress of the more mature variety...we are out there! (Just call me Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore). But what Lea said. Oh, wait...she said what greenheron said.
Anyhow, do you deliver? (r)
I loved this. Can't tell you how many times those same ideas and thoughts have raced through my head. To the very bitter reality tinged end. I prefer to love to cook, not cook to live.

I always think that Mr Vance must have one of the best exercise programs in America.
Please write a cookbook. With stories. With your words that make me salivate as much as your recipes. And yes, as Lea said, get a TV show. Look at your competition~ Ina, Rachel, Sandra, Giada, pfft. ~r
A. I am now starving, even though I just had vanilla ice cream with pumpkin pie mix stirred into it.
B. Your nightmare graph is so funny and good.
C. Yes, a cookbook.
I'm crazy about Galangal. That is the same thing they put in the Tom Ka Gai soup, right? The Vance restaurant sounds like heaven spelled backwards- Neveah! How clevah!
I bet that you can make a broccoli floret shame a brocollini. Love the way you write. Same comment as Greenheron too.
1) Congratulations on the EP
2) Adopt me...... please????
I would gladly waitress, cook, mop floors in your restaurant. Love your writing, love your recipes, might be in love with you.
Now I know what to do with the galangal! I see it at the asian store, and think, next time, next time.... I do try to try a new spice or veggie every visit or two.
Fantastic post, excellent writing and an overdue and very well deserved EP. Congratulations, BV, you definitely earned it. R
Yum, yummy yummiest.... slurpy slurp.
But Bell, have you tried fresh Galangal, beaten to a pulp in a mortar and pestle? Dried is OK but fresh is best.
You are playing my song - and honestly, as a person who went from "restaurant dreams" to "getting paid to cook," I sort of have to tip my hat to your inner skeptic. You are already a restaurateur, anyway, and you are doing it your way, without filling out hazardous chemical data sheets, dealing with flaky employees, or opening a crate of tomatoes to find that the bottom tomatoes have committed suicide en route. I am SO making both of those soups, too........
Bell - write a book about your imaginary restaurant, but don't don't don't do it for real. I've watched enough Gordon Ramsay (U.K. Kitchen Nightmares being my favorite, since Hell's Kitchen is way too obsessed with scallops and Wellingtons and risotto and a whole lot of yelling) to think having a restaurant would be one of the worst jobs ever. Consistency doesn't sound like a recipe for the best life. But jeez, I wish lived near you. Two soups every day! And empanadas in the freezer! I'd cook more, in order to try to trade.
Dirndl -- You are so overqualified. But it would be fun for the old women to gather in the bathroom and pretend to pee on pregnancy tests. I DO deliver. One day I'll deliver to NY!

Dunniteowl -- I knew owls were smart. I think the dream is so much better than the reality.

Catherine -- He begins every morning with me barking, "Drop and give me twenty." Then he hands me twenty dollars. We don't eat meat, so we can splurge on cream in the soup!

Joan -- That Ina. I'm sure she could cut a bitch.

Jane -- Pumpkin pie mix with ice cream? Why didn't I think of that?

Fernsy -- It's fresh galangal in the Thai soups, and it is divine. Your faith in me is so sweet. I feel like my cracker jack self!

Chrissie -- (Looking around at my motley crew of mutts) I guess I'll adopt anything, so come on!

McKenna -- I'm going to print out your comment, frame it and also embroider it on my pillowcases.

Oryoki -- I do the same thing. It keeps cooking exciting. The fresh variety is quite different from the ground spice. Kind of like ginger is to ground ginger.

Thoth -- Aw thanks! It's good to see your avatar in the feed again.

Jobaby -- I love fresh galangal! It is such a vibrant ingredient. The ground version is, I think, just a completely different thing. Far sweeter and more muted and flowery. That's why I used the ground galangal -- with the heaviness of pureed texture, the earthiness of the carrot and the sweetness of the cream, the ground variety seems like a much better fit.

Ann -- I did think of you and your path to professional cook when I was writing this. You KNOW!

Jane Smithie -- You're back! My four lobes are also liars. I don't trust any of them.

Jaramelle -- Thanks a bunch. These were last weeks soups. This week we have vegetable and brown rice, and a creamy asparagus. Also lentil. Which I'm going to freeze for cooler weather.

Mumble -- I watch those same shows!!! Nightmare. I have enough sense to know I'm not cut out for restaurant ownership. But the dreams are nice. I'd trade my empanadas (eggplant and smoked cheese) for some of your Indian food any day.
First of all, this was hysterical. "Heaven spelled backwards" -- fabulous. I do wish you'd open the restaurant.
Dreams should come true. When you open your restaurant, please let me know. I want to be there for the grand opening.
I think you are such a wonderful person - and formidable foodie - but I would warn anyone against opening a restaurant - it seems so stressful! At the same time...I kind of wish you would open one....I would totally fly all the way out there to sample some of your delicious cooking!
It's probably no surprise that I have my dream restaurant, too. I drive by it often. It's a former gas station, very old, and I want to paint the roof and door red. Geraniums in giant pots out front. Twinkle lights in potted trees. We'll be open for brunch and lunch and have soups, salads, sandwiches, scones and ice cream. I think I'll call it Bell's. (so it's best to let my daydreams hold hands with my cracker jack self.)
I know exactly the daydream you wrote about. Whenever I see an empty storefront in an area I like, I start dreaming up restaurants names. But I, too, know the reality all too well. Having worked in them myself and having been married to a chef for over 13 years, I well know that restaurants come with multitides of problems. Given the profit margins and risk, you practically have to be insane to open one. So far we've had better sense but one day that may change...

Realities aside, I think you'd make a terrific restauranteur. If you ever do open your own place, I'll be sure to visit :-)
Hahahah! "..if I came within a hundred yards of a Grammy stage I'd crap my Spanx and bawl like an emo kid." Hahahahaha!
Just got your rating and took a look, Priceless! Thanks!