Panera’s French Onion Soup, indeed the chain restaurant itself, holds a special place in my heart (and stomach). Just as I have a food association with muffins and bringing home Baby Boy, I associate Panera – and French Onion Soup – with Rachel. Indeed, I can’t walk into a Panera without immediately thinking of my beautiful wife. What’s so special about Panera? It was our “date” spot.
I met Rachel our first week at college. It was some freshman ice breaker event where we all went overnight camping at a local lake. I wasn’t thrilled about going but my roommate Dave, who is my childhood friend, went so I felt compelled to.
That next morning I got a late start (waking up late is a distant memory now that Baby Boy is here). I found Dave already at breakfast, sitting with a group of girls (of course). Dave introduced me to the group who, he told me, not only lived on the same dorm room floor as us, but just a few doors down.
One of those girls was Rachel. I won’t say it was love at first sight (she doesn’t really remember meeting me there) but I did think there was something different about her (in a good way!).
Turned out I was in the same Psychology and Music classes as Rachel. Every time she was leaving for class I was too (just a coincidence, right?), so we’d walk together and talk. I’d visit her and her roommate Gabrielle, who we are still good friends with, or she would come and pester me and Dave. The more I got to know Rachel, the more I would think “there is something special about this girl”.
I can’t really explain how it happened other than to say the planets somehow aligned and a unicorn must have flown over a rainbow; we started dating.
College cafeteria food not being the greatest, I would take Rachel to a local, newly opened Panera where we would sit for an hour or two over bowls of French Onion Soup or Chai Tea, just talking. That was our place; Panera. And we’d always get the same thing, French Onion Soup; me in a cup with a sandwich, her in a sour dough bread bowl. So many conversations; some serious, some silly. Sometimes not saying anything at all. Just enjoying each other’s company.
Through college, engagement, and marriage, Panera
was still is our spot. We don’t eat out much these days, with Baby Boy now with us. But we don’t mind. We enjoy spending time at home, cooking together, being together and with our little boy.
Last Friday Rachel called me just before I left work. She asked me to pick up some Asiago bread to go with dinner. Sure, what are we having I asked? She told me I’d see.
I walked in to the delicious aroma of this Panera inspired French Onion Soup. We cut up the bread, filled our bowls with soup, and sat down to a meal we’ve been sharing for some 11 years now.
Sitting there enjoying this soup, my beautiful wife next to me, and Baby Boy laughing in his sleep as he napped in his crib, I quietly said thank you that the stars and planets aligned all those years ago. That I was lucky enough to meet this special lady who I would want to spend the rest of my days with.
Recipe: Panera (Inspired) French Onion Soup
- 1/4 cup butter
- 4 medium yellow onions, sliced
- 2 cans (14 oz each) beef broth
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 drops Tabasco sauce
- Asiago Cheese Bread (or a french or other bread)
- Swiss cheese
- Melt the butter in a large sauce pan, then add the onions. Saute over medium heat until the onions are soft and slightly browned.
- Pour in the remaining ingredients into the pot and stir. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes, uncovered.
- Once soup has simmered and top with a slice of bread and shaved cheese. Place under broiler until cheese has melted, then serve.
Cooking time: 25 minute(s)