French onion soup has always been one of my favorite restaurant choices. However, I’ve never made it at home before this week. My hand was forced because Mrs. Greenbean bought about seven thousand pounds of onions at Costco, and they were stinking up the whole house. I had to cook them or toss them.

I decided it was time to make soup.

File Feb 01, 9 29 39 AM
Onions and Cheese–Perfect ingredients

I perused the interwebs for ideas, and went from there. The first thing I had to do was buy oven-to-table bowls. Wal-Mart let me down, and I shall not forget their treachery. I ended up going to the only other place in town that might have them, and that was Tuesday Morning.  They didn’t have a matching set, but I did get four, which is perfect for the Greenbeans.


  • olive oil
  • half cup butter
  • four large onions, sliced
  • a fourth cup of flour
  • forty ounces of beef broth
  • a fourth cup of red wine
  • dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
  • thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • one baguette
  • sliced provolone cheese
  • sliced Swiss cheese
  • grated Parmesan cheese


I made the soup in my favorite dutch oven, but any large stock pot would do.

I melted the butter, added the olive oil, then threw in the onions. I cooked them on medium heat on the stove top until they were were translucent and properly reduced. Then I added the flour. This carmelized them, causing some of that delicious brown to emerge. Different recipes argued for and against the flour, but it was the right choice for me.

When the flour had browned a bit and the pot was becoming dry, I added all of the beef stock. I stirred it well, then added the Worcestershire sauce. Immediately after that came the wine. I used a hearty burgundy. Then I tossed in a tablespoon or so of thyme, a little salt and pepper, stirred it well, brought the heat up until it simmered, then reduced the heat to low. I covered the pot and let it simmer for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally.

[It seemed to me this part of the process can be done well in advance of mealtime, even days. Simply heat the soup up when you are ready to serve it.]

At the end of the thirty minutes, I set my oven to broil. I ladled the soup into my brand new (and thoroughly washed) oven to table bowls. I placed three ample slices of baguette on top of the soup, then covered it with a slice of swiss, a slice of provolone, and a tablespoon or so of the grated Parmesan. This is, of course, a matter of taste. The next time I make this I will likely use stronger cheeses like Gruyere or maybe even a smoked Gouda.

I placed the bowls on a cookie sheet, then put it in the broiling oven. I left them there about four minutes.  That is all it took for the cheese to brown, the soup to bubble a bit, and the aroma of deliciousness to fill my home.

I served it immediately. Enjoy.


I’m cheating again.  I called this ‘personal growth’ because I don’t have a better category.  I suppose I could use the catchall ‘self help’ but I deplore that label because it has come to mean pop psychology dribble from the Oprah circuit.  I also considered ‘professional development’ as that is a common label for these kinds of books but not all of them are strictly professional.  I think these books would help anyone anywhere and not just in the realm of our work lives.

So I went with personal growth.  If you have a better idea for a category, let me know.  But now, here goes my top three personal growth books.

Quiet, Susan Cain

549105954Love is not quite the right word for the way I feel about this book.  Need is a better word.  Cain’s work on how introverts are different and how they can cope in a world that glamorizes the ‘extrovert ideal’ is revolutionary, not just to introverts but to those who love them.  As a non-shy introvert I found it very difficult to carry the mantle of extrovert that people demand from their pastor.  It is not evil that they expect it, it is simply the way things are.  Cain’s book is a major help for those introverts who have to live as though they were extroverts.

Getting Things Done, David Allen

I am not a naturally organized human being.  I tend to leave things lying around, make piles of important things and forget about them, and I’m forever scribbling notes and ideas down on something.  Allen’s book puts forward the idea that if you are organized, then you will be more productive.  The time it takes to put your stuff together in a cohesive, well managed, and systematized process will pay off dividends in the long run.

He is right.  He argues for some simple steps that make sense but that most people don’t do because they think that every situation is the exception.

I recommend this book highly for people who work in an office environment, have large amounts of data to deal with (both paper and digital) and students.  I read it first as an audio book and it is only a three hour listen.  Listen to it while working out or driving.  It will help you pull it together.

Who Moved My Cheese, Spencer Johnson

This book is a metaphor shoved inside of an allegory.  What I love about this book is the simple question, What would you do if you weren’t afraid?  Most everyone read this book in the 90’s as it was pushed pretty heavy in professional circles as a marketing book.  I don’t think of it as a marketing book but as a book about finding joy in life.  At its core Who Moved My Cheese is a guide to identifying the rut you’re in and then figuring out how to bravely crawl out of it.

So my top three personal growth books are a personality book, an administrative book, and a leadership guide.  Only Quiet is a long read, the other two are brief, the kind of things you can knock out in a day or two and feel very accomplished about.  It took me a long time to process through Quiet, but I think that is just the nature of that subject material.

What books would you put on your personal growth favorites list?


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The tastiest thing that was brought to my small group last night was these cream cheese blueberry cookies.  My soul those were yummy.  The chicken stew was good too,  I must say.  I did not bring either of those.  Instead I brought pimento cheese sandwiches.  I thought it was delicious and enjoyed it, but after small group was over one of the women in the group confided that, “She hadn’t had pimento cheese since her great grandmother made it for her as a child.”   I thought it especially interesting that she said “great-grandmother” not just grandmother.   My foodie fashion was so old it went back FOUR generations.  Awesome.

We had a good laugh over it, and let the record show she wasn’t being mean, she was being funny, but truthful.  So there you go.  I brought grandma food.  I guess pimento cheese is not cool and hip, as it is not infused with anything, pan crusted, seared, or marinated in a brine.  I wonder what other foods classify as “grandma food”.  I made a small list:

  1. Egg Salad
  2. Meatloaf
  3. Ovaltine
  4. Polk Salad
  5. Hominy

Of course, some old fashioned foods are making a comeback of sorts.  Who would have ever thought eggplant would be as trendy as it is now.  For the record, I hated eggplant back in the day and I hate it now.   Then there is soul food such as pork bellies which are faddish and then Greek yogurt is hip.  I’ve always liked Greek yogurt, but didn’t that used to just be something people on WeightWatchers ate?  Pork bellies is what we ate when the bacon was all gone.

By the way, for a fun look at trendy eating, consider this flow chart.

But back to my pimento cheese.  I liked it enough to share my recipe with you.  Its nothing fantastic, just simple and cobbled together from several different recipes and ideas.

1 and 3/4 cups of EXTRA sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1/4 cup of havarti cheese, grated

Eight ounces of cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 Cup of REAL mayonaise (Out here it is Best Foods Mayonnaise, where I grew up it is called Hellmann’s Mayonnaise)

A shake or two of garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon of onion powder

1/4 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper, and then one more shake for good measure

A dash of Tabasco sauce if you like it a little spicy.

4 ounces (one of those small jars) of pimentos, drained.   

Throw all of those ingredients in whatever order you come to them in a freestanding mixer and mix on medium speed for about a minute, then scrape the bowl down and mix it for another minute.  If the coloring is not to your liking, add a little more of the grated extra sharp cheddar cheese.

I served it as sandwiches on white bread and on slices of crisp celery.  The way my mother used to serve it (note, she probably learned it from my grandma) was to spoon it up on hollowed out jalapeno halves.


Mrs. Greenbean has told me that I can’t receive the mail or be near any parcels which arrive for the next several days.  The reason for this, she says, is my Christmas present is on the way and I would know what it was just by looking at the box.  I’m not much of a snooper on things like this, but my curiosity is definitely piqued.  The only clue I have to work with is my wife said (or was it my oldest daughter who said it?) it was, “Something you’ve always wanted.”

Well, that narrows it down.  My first guess, then, was that it was a cheese wheel.  I have always wanted one of those.  She said that wasn’t what it was.  This means that my Christmas present is a genie in a bottle.  That is the only other thing I’ve always wanted.  I have been thinking about my three wishes ever since I was a little boy and saw Barbara Eden on television.

  1. Wish Number One:  Every time I reach into my pocket, may there be a new $100 bill.  Admittedly, when I was boy, it was a $5 bill but, times have changed and so have my needs.  I devised this plan based upon two problems.  If I asked for a set amount of money, it might not be enough to do things.  With this plan, I can always get more.  It also solves the problem of storage.  A set amount of money could be stolen or lost on devastating investments—like retirement funds.  But this way, I just pull it out when I need it.
  2. Wish Number Two:  I wish for the ability to travel through time without having to worry about any annoying causality problems.  As a historian it would be fascinating to me to see key moments in history as well as everyday life in the past.  Imagine having a cup of coffee with Abraham Lincoln before he was anyone important or chatting with Hemingway about bullfighting?  That’s the kind of stuff I would enjoy.  The only problem is language.  To visit the past, say, Rome—one really would need to master classical Latin or learn Chinese to see t he emergence of the Han Dynasty.  I wonder if this second wish could have an addendum about languages
  3. Wish Number Three:  It is tempting to be swayed by silly Disney films and make my third wish to free the genie.  My old friend Chuck always reminds me, though, the ancient literature says repeatedly “Fear one thing—the Djinn” so I will refrain from unleashing that type of devastation upon the planet.  So, my third wish is I that I have top-secret security clearance as an agent of the FBI.  I’ve waffled in the past on this—sometimes the CIA or The Texas Rangers (not the baseball team, but the totally awesome law enforcement agency) or even Interpol.  But I’ve decided in my fantasy it would be easier to live the life of a top-secret agent and keep my calling as a pastor if I stay domestic with the FBI.


In the unlikely event that my Christmas present is not a genie in a bottle; then I will let you know what kind of cheese it was.  Until then, all of us should be working on our three wishes, just in case our special someone gives us what we’ve always wanted.