Betsy’s Kitchen

Today I’m making lentil soup – Betsy’s lentil soup. As I follow her careful steps, I realize I can now share a little secret…

This fall two of my sisters and I put together a cookbook. It was a project commissioned by our cousin George for his wife Betsy. Betsy ran a cooking school in their home in London for many years, and his dream was to compile her recipes into something tangible. We worked together on the sly, Lee as CEO (ie. totally computer savvy with the focus of a man watching football) and Sally and I as chief helpers. Spending time with Betsy’s recipes was like being there in her kitchen, hearing her voice, guiding us along. George presented her with the finished product on her birthday, while dining with friends in Paris. George declared on New Year’s eve that it was his highlight of 2009. Sniff.
For the cover, we wanted an image that reflected both Betsy’s love of food and art. We decided on a shot of her hand-blown glass chilli necklace, captured by Sal one sunny afternoon in September.

I wrote the introduction.
Betsy’s Kitchen was well underway by the time I came along. It’s the fall of 1996 and I’m on my way to the south of France to study French for the school year. I have a degree under my belt, but my future isn’t clear. In fact it’s as cloudy as a poorly made consommé. Hiding up in George and Betsy’s spare room on the 3rd floor of 3 St. James’s Gardens seemed like the best place to pause before the journey of clarification began.

Four floors below Betsy is busily chopping garlic for that morning’s class. She lifts the cap within the wooden cutting board and wipes the papery skins through the secret hole into the garbage below. Her mis en place is complete. Pastry is chilling in the fridge. Stools curve around the kitchen island, waiting for the students arrive. Soon the door bell rings and a handful of adults, binders in hand, are ushered inside. William Morris-papered walls guide them down the stairs into the cozy basement kitchen below. How appropriate. There was nothing Morris valued more than the satisfaction gained through creative co-operation. Morris was an architect by trade, but he also embraced the arts of stained glass, embroidery, wallpaper, furniture design and tapestry. If the Victorian diet hadn’t been so uninspiring, his repertoire would, without a doubt, have included the culinary arts.

That year in France was peppered with many trips to 3 St. James’s Gardens. I hung on to Betsy by her apron stings; I followed her to Lidgate, her butcher, and Michanicou Brothers, her green grocers, then watched as she transformed her bounty into edible works of art. Betsy’s kitchen is a melange of craft, food, wine and story fuelled by students, close friends and family. She made a career from these ingredients and shared this vocation with those who walked through her door. Today I make a living writing about food. I thank Betsy for showing me the recipe.

And Betsy’s Lentil Soup, customized for me the year I hid on their third floor:

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