Monday, October 10, 2011

The Little le Creuset that Could

After I got married one thing I perpetually coveted and could never afford was a le Creuset enameled cast iron dutch oven. I was enamored with their bright colors, their versatility, their Frenchness. After my mother died and we all came down with the flu, my aunt brought us chicken soup in her enormous old blue le Creuset. Soup plus pot must have weighed a good thirty pounds and how she carried it up the stairs to our apartment, with her bad hip is a mystery to me.

I wanted one and wanted one, but since we had a serviceable set of pans, and one smallish le Creuset costs over $100, it was an extravagance. Then, after years of being a stay-at-home mother and then a student, I had my own income and, of all the extravagant things I have coveted over the years, the le Creuset was the one thing that stuck with me. I could afford it, but I kept putting it off. I was unhappy in my job as a nurse and the le Creuset became the carrot for my donkey:  I kept telling myself that if I could survive just one more pay period, I would buy myself the pan and then I could quit, my material needs complete. Pay period followed pay period for nearly two years and I never bought my le Creuset although I did visit the snootiest cooking store in town--the one on Main St. where the staff ignore me and I always leave in a rage without buying anything. The snooty store only had Staub enameled cast iron, probably because Staub is, in some subtle, insignificant, only-known-to-insiders way superior to le Creuset, like that the Staub color palatte is more sophisticated and only a juvenile troll would want the bright colors of le Creuset. I left in a rage, without buying anything, thinking indignantly, "I have MONEY TO SPEND and I will spend it ELSEWHERE."

Then one day last summer, shopping in Richmond with my daughters, I noticed that le Creuset dutch ovens were on sale at Williams Sonoma and I finally bought one, a blue one. Not as huge as my aunt's, but big enough. It seemed important that I buy it with my nursing money and it did happen to be my last pay period as a nurse. Has any piece of cookware ever been purchased after so much anguish? Oh, and the Williams Sonoma staff were NOT SNOOTY AT ALL. I'm all for shopping local, but not at local shops staffed by assholes.

The new pan sat in the cupboard, unused, for weeks. It was summer and too hot for cassoulets and stews and soups. I wondered if I would ever use it at all. Cool weather came and I used my new pan for something--I can't remember what--and now I use it almost every night. You can put it on the stove, you can put it in the oven, it's an attractive serving dish, and it stores leftovers. I can't think how I got along without it all these years.

Last night, Grace and Seamus, as is their wont, both invited friends to sleep over. Grace invited two friends. I had planned to make dinner for four people, and now suddenly we were having seven. What to do? Make black bean soup and lots and lots of bread. The soup, cooked in the le Creuset, using real beans, not canned, was delicious and the kids loved it.

The bread was a whole wheat beer cheese bread. We didn't have any beer and I walked to the corner deli to buy some. Ordinarily, buying beer isn't a problem, but Jon has lately given up drinking. I didn't want to buy an entire six pack and leave temptation in the house for him. I contemplated the beer fridge for some minutes, wondering what to do. Next to me was a couple examining the big 40 ounce beers. They thought that $2.69 was an outrageous price for a single, enormous beer and were deciding if they should give up their bus fare in order to buy one. I needed eighteen ounces of beer for my bread and I thought, "Hey, I could buy a 40 ouncer and just dump what I don't use." I don't know about you, but I have certain prejudices about buying forty ounce beers at the corner deli. Call me a snob, but to me, it goes along with spending the other half of your paycheck on lottery tickets and drinking in bus shelters out of brown paper bags. So I was embarrased to be buying this giant beer at my neighborhood store. Which is ridiculous, but humor me.

I put the beer on the counter at the register, and idiotically said, "It's for a recipe." The clerk took a step back and squinted at me.

"For real?"

"Yes," I said.

"What kind of recipe?"

"Beer-wheat-cheese bread," I said, mortified. The clerk turned to the woman at the other register.

"Hey," she said, "this beer is for her 'recipe.'"

"What kind of recipe?"

"Beer-wheat-cheese bread," I whispered, tempted to flee the store and never, ever return.

"What’s in it?" they demanded.

"Wheat and cheese and beer."

"That sounds good," they said. "Don't you eat too much or you'll get drunk." The clerks thought that was hilarious and repeated it a few times. Drunk on bread! Great day! They asked me if I wanted a bag and I said no because that is my reflex answer to that question, so I had to walk home carrying a forty ounce beer that was not even decently covered with a brown paper bag. The bread was delicious.


  1. Glad you're getting fun out of the Le Creuset. We had 2 in our early years (wedding presents) and they were well used, but so heavy. We lost one when it was dropped onto a concrete floor and the enamel cracked, so they're not invulnerable.
    The second lasted until my beloved forgot it was on the hob, and burnt the meat so badly it actually stained the enamel and a taste of burnt protein was left to contaminate every other dish we cooked. It ended up as a very attractive plant holder.

    We've just bought a Chinese knock-off of Le Creuset, at about ¼ the price, but the quality seems very good.

    The only trouble with these things is the weight, and my beloved is already getting me to take it out and oput it away in the cupboard because it makes her back sore.

    We never seem to have any trouble with excess beer in our house, it just seems to evaporate, even in sealed containers, it vanishes.

  2. Tuesday Morning on Pantops used to have Le Creuset at reasonably cheap (only one arm instead of an arm AND a leg) prices. I'm using a Tramontina knock-off which works fine but is incredibly stained. I gave up on beer bread because it's always bitter, but I make a King Arthur recipe foccaccia that's sort of quick - 2 hours from start to finish.

  3. I covet the Le Crueset (which was redundant with two articles--oof!). And like you, it's a goal I have to own one. And like you, I HATE it when local shops are staffed by assholes, forcing me to go to the chain store where often the service is better, forcing me to blab all over town and spread the word.


    YAY that you got your pot! And your beer! And that your recipe turned out delish!
    And that your hubby quit drinking. That's good news, too.

  4. You've now convinced me I need a le Creuset. I'm so glad you finally treated yourself. I'm sure all the wait and agonizing makes you appreciate it all the more.

    Would you be willing to share your black bean soup recipe?

  5. Sure, bythelbs. I'll put it up soon in a blog post.

  6. You know, Marshall's and TJ Maxx often have Le Creuset seconds. I'm so mad at myself for not scooping up the giant round dutch oven that sells for $300 for $100 at TJ Maxx! I haven't seen that big one since.

    I have one of the medium size oval dutch ovens. It was a present. I too agonized over spending the money for years so opening that box was a happy, happy moment.