Remember Daisy, the ever-expanding donkey? The one who was expecting a foal any minute now? We turns out, she’s not. Expecting, I mean.

At least we’re 90% sure she’s not expecting. Today, I spent the morning helping a very nice vet who specializes in equines ultrasound my donkey. Dr. Shane looked and looked but he couldn’t find any evidence that Daisy is bred, let alone due any time soon.

Why the rapidly expanding girth? Dr. Shane thinks that the pasture in Central Virginia are lush-er than those of her native Northern Virginia. Apparently keeping donkey from getting fat is a full-time job around these parts, and Daisy is going on a reducing plan right away.

I was terribly disappointed when Dr. Shane broke the news.. Terribly. I had spent a fair amount of time daydreaming about this little donk-to-be and coming up with names. Have you ever seen a newborn baby donkey? There is nothing on this earth cuter. And I know from cute, my friends!

I was also disappointed for Daisy. She is no a huge fan of sheep and goats and I’m sure she would love a friend of her own species.

So perhaps I will keep an eye on the new foals born this year at Tulip Hill Farm, the wonderful place from whence Daisy came, and find a companion for Miss Daisy this spring. Maybe even a boyfriend. I would awfully like to see a newborn mini donk.

I was already feeling blue and the weather was doing nothing to improve my mood. Today was cold, rainy, gray day, the kind best spent reading by a roaring fire with a dog at your feet.

There is only one thing that could make this kind of day better: French onion soup. Not the over-salted, thin, pale stuff that passes for French onion soup at most restaurants. No, the only thing that would do is real French onion soup, the kind Julia Child probably made when she found out her mini donkey wasn’t going to have a baby.

I like to use a variety of onions in my soup to add depth of flavor. I had sweet and yellow onions on hand. You’ll need about two pounds of onions sliced thin.

It’s not important to get them super thin; it’s more important that they be about the same width so they cook at the same rate.

Put the onions in a large dutch oven and toss them with two tablespoons of olive oil. Traditionally this recipe would be made with butter, but I was out of butter and olive oil works just fine.  Turn the burner on the lowest setting and cover, allowing the onions to sweat for about 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, remove the lid and stir in 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. The salt is for flavor, the sugar is going to help the onions caramelize. Turn the heat up to medium and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour.

You may want to rush this step but it’s really important not to. The flavor of the soup really depends of the caramelization of the onions, so be patient.

It will seem like nothing is happening for the longest time. Then you will notice that your onions are shrinking.

Then they will start to get the slightest hint of color.

And then – BAM! -suddenly you’ve got caramelization. I like to let my onions get to a fairly deep golden brown, but do be careful that they don’t burn at this stage.

Next you’re going to sprinkle two tablespoons of flour over the onions and stir it in. Allow to cook for two minutes.

Now it’s time to add our liquids. White wine would be good, but I don’t tend to keep white wine in the house because I don’t drink it.

Let me introduce you to my good friend vermouth.Vermouth is white wine that has been fortified, which gives it a longer shelf life. Dry vermouth can be substituted for white wine in any recipe and it’s easy to always keep a bottle in your pantry. (Marsala functions the same way as a substitute for red wine.)

Add a half cup of vermouth or dry white wine to your onions (be sure to take the pan off the heat before adding any alcohol if you have a gas stove) and stir. Continue to stir over heat until most of the vermouth has evaporated.

Next, we’ll add our stock. For every two pounds of onions, I add two quarts of beef stock. In a perfect world, we would all make out own beef stock from bones obtained at the knowledgeable local butcher and slow roasted with a glaze of tomato paste, but this is not a perfect world. I know that because in a perfect world, my donkey would be pregnant.There’s nothing wrong with using boxed beef stock provided you look out for three things on the label. You want to be sure it says “stock” and not “broth” (broth is too weak and thin). You want to make sure the word “flavored” isn’t in evidence, as in “beef flavored stock”. And you want to buy stock that is low in sodium or, better yet, sodium-free. I found three perfectly acceptable stocks are my local grocery store.

Vegetarians wishing to make this soup should skip the vegetable stock (which will make a pallid soup) in favor of mushroom stock, a much richer, more unctuous substitute. If you can’t find mushroom stock, Better than Bouillon makes a Mushroom Base  that is a great substitute for beef stock.

Slowly add two quarts of the stock of your choice to the onion mixture, stirring well.

Let your soup simmer gently for about an hour, allowing all the lovely flavors to get to know each other.  Taste the soup for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Now it’s time to add the coup de grace:

Stir 1/4 cup of brandy or cognac in to the soup and serve. (FYI, I used really cheap brandy in this recipe- not the fancy stuff pictured here. I forgot to take a picture of it though, so I swiped this one from the internet. You definitely don’t need to you high priced brandy or cognac in this soup.)

At this point you can add a slice of baguette and a quarter cup of shredded Gruyere cheese to your bowls and stick them under the broiler for a moment or two but it really isn’t necessary. Since I too am on a reducing plan, I added a few shavings of parmesan and ate it with a piece of crusty sourdough bread on the side. It was delicious and exactly what I needed today.

Here’s the ingredient list, in case you want to try this at home:

  • 2 pounds onions, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup vermouth or dry white wine
  • 2 quarts beef or mushroom stock
  • 1/4 cup brandy or cognac

I don’t know if it was the restorative soup, the blazing fire in the wood stove or the adoring Aussie at my feet, but something reminded me how lucky I am to have a donkey at all, pregnant or not.

I thank my lucky stars every day.