I regularly read Jenna Weber’s blog Eat, Live, Run, so I was excited to learn that she had a book coming out. I pre-ordered a copy of White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-Of-Age Story to accompany me on our recent moving expedition. Despite two chapters related to her younger brother’s death (which I unfortunately read right before we were to meet friends for lunch), the book is a light-hearted and fun read.
This memoir’s central theme is Weber’s experiences as a student in the Baking & Pastry Certificate program at Le Cordon Bleu. I often think that in order to fully enjoy a book, you must identify with a main character, and in many parts of this book, I found myself relating to Jenna. For example, as a child, she was obsessed with Little House on the Prairie, tried to recreate recipes from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s day, and even went so far as to simulate hand-washing laundry in the woods outside her southern home. As a child, I had a Little House on the Prairie cookbook, and literally cried in the grocery store when my parents refused to buy a pound of lard and live blackbirds so I could make blackbird pie. I can definitely relate to Jenna’s notion that she was born in the wrong century.
The sub-theme of this book is going after one’s dreams, and for that reason I think it would be a good read for young adults looking to find ther path in life. I loved the Paulo Coelho quote she chose for the conclusion, as it pretty much sums up where I am at in my own life right now:
Whenever we need to make a very important decision, it is best to trust impulse and passion, because reason usually tries to remove us from our dream, saying that the time is not yet right. Reason is afraid of defeat, but intuition enjoys life and its challenges.
Also, the book is interspersed with sweet and savory recipes of some of Weber’s favorite dishes, and of course I had to try one out. This one is for Creamy Tomato Soup and comes from the chapter when she has just finished culinary school and works for a short time as a baker.
Creamy Tomato Soup
From White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-Of-Age Story
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups diced tomatoes (I used fresh, but you could also substitute canned tomatoes in the off-season)
3/4 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups whole milk (I think whole milk is the essential ingredient to this recipe’s creaminess, so don’t skimp with low-fat or skim milk)
Heat the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the onion and toss well to combine. Cook for an additional 3 minutes, stirring often.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the tomatoes with the sugar, salt, and baking soda and set aside.
Add the milk to the onion mixture, briefly whisk, then whisk in the tomato mixture. Bring to a simmer and continue to simmer for about 4 minutes (the soup will thicken a bit). Carefully pour the soup into a blender and purée until smooth, about 10 seconds.
Return soup to pot and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. The soup keeps in the refrigerator for a few days and pairs nicely with a grilled cheese sandwich. In fact, this is what I’ve been eating for lunch every day this week.