Half a Bay Leaf and How I Finally Learned To Cook

 I learned to cook out of necessity. I am always hungry and I like to eat good food. I always thought cookbooks should have pictures, those words never really interested me. Although I always made good food, I never felt like I know how to cook.

Everything changed in December 2010 when I gave my friend, Julie, a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The gift inspired us to explore the book together throughout the year, one chapter a month. Each month, we each selected just one recipe from that month’s chapter and then we prepared those two recipes. Since Julie lives in Chicago and I live in Paris, we decided to share our cooking experience with each other through letters and photos we shared with each other in a now defunct blog. In an effort to prepare the exact same dish, we established one rule: follow the directions to the letter. One rule. Follow the directions.

Our very first recipe of January 2010, Chapter One, was Aïgo Bouïdo, a garlic soup. In this recipe Julia tells us to use half a bay leaf and I balked. Who breaks a bay leaf in half? Julia Child does. And she knows the difference between a whole bay leaf and half a bay leaf. Who could be bothered? But I knew Julie would break the bay leaf in half and I had to co-operate with our procedures. I am glad I did, because the results spoke for themselves. That garlic soup changed my life. It taught me to follow the directions…at least when I cook.

The garlic soup ended up on my Top Three Favorite Recipes in our year-end recap. Here is a portion of the letter I wrote to Julie in January 2010, a year that eventually came to be known as The Year of Butter…

Aïgo Bouïdo.  It sounds like a dance, and it tastes like one, too.  In the cookbook, Julia says that the garlic flavor becomes « exquisite, aromatic, and almost undefinable. »  At first I wondered how that much garlic could possibly be « almost undefinable, » but how right she is !  This simple little recipe magically gives us a subtle richness and depth of flavor I have never come across in a soup.

You know that I have wanted to try this recipe since I read about Julia’s description of it in My Life in France.  For ages, I have imagined a hearty garlicky soup.  I had it all wrong.  But it so happily surprised me.  And like you, I love that we can make this soup whenever – it’s so simple and as long as there’s garlic in the kitchen, you can make it.  And make this soup we should, and will, again and again.  It has become an instant, permanent classic for me.  Why ?  Because it’s like swallowing clouds.

Bon appétit !

For copyright issues, I am not sure I can share Julia’s recipes, but I can share this version .







  • Merci, Brigitte! If you would like to know more about something Parisian, just let me know!

    James - LLA_Paris
  • I enjoy your blog very much! Thank your the interesting topics and the freshness of your writing. I almost feel I am “there”

    Brigitte Bruggemann

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