Kay Rentschler's Whole Grain Boule
Maple Drive's Lemon Poppy Seed Scones

Marian Burros' Mushroom Barley Soup


My weekend is over and I'm feeling dejected. There's something about visits from certain guests that just makes you want to keep them close. They bring a sparkle to your days, and when they're gone you can't wait for them to come back again. They make you see your city in an entirely different light, and inject an infectious enthusiasm that lingers long after they're gone. I can't wait for the next visit.

We ate like kings over the past few days: dinner at Bombay Talkie where ogling Carol Alt's uncannily unlined face and statuesque figure (and all I could think was, what on earth will she eat?) at the adjacent table practically took precedence over finishing our meal, a late and restorative lunch at Thai on Clinton while it rained outside and I kicked myself for remembering that this place was off Rivington but not remembering at which intersection, dinner at Les Halles (the fries dunked in Bearnaise were the highlight for some of us, but the petatou de chevre and the creme brulee and, oh wait, the cassoulet and the steak with shallot sauce - oh rats, forget it: the whole thing was delicious), lunch on the 5th floor of MoMA with delicate salads to start and bombastic desserts to finish, and a goodbye meal at a strangely deserted Home on Cornelia Street, where the blue cheese fondue had us licking our plates even before the rest of the meal was carried out.

When the goodbyes were made and all the planes had taken off, I found myself at home in need of a simple meal, light but filling. Turning to my trusty scrapbook, I found a clipping from 2002, in which Marian Burros published her mother's recipe for mushroom barley soup. The mushroom barley soup of my grandmother's kitchen and of old-time diners had never been one of my favorites: too spongy, too mushy, too sodden with tinny-tasting broth. But the list of ingredients in this soup (sherry, dried and fresh mushrooms, vinegar) seemed promising. And I could use up more of my pearled barley, which made me feel all neat and resourceful inside.

The soup's quite simple: you dice up onions and carrots and garlic and soften that in olive oil, while you chunk up assorted fresh mushrooms (meanwhile, a small portion of dried porcini are soaking in hot water) and add them to the pot. When that's cooked for a bit, you throw in the barley, let it brown, then add what seems like an enormous amount of beef broth (I use this stuff - I think it's because Julie always talked about it), a bit of sherry, the drained and chopped porcini, their strained soaking liquid and some cracked pepper. This simmers until the barley's done and all the flavors have melded together into a comforting, multi-layered soup.

I stirred in a spoonful of sherry vinegar to brighten everything up and ate a steaming bowl of it for dinner, with a piece of young pecorino and an apple to finish things off. Now I've got a portion in the freezer for a lazy afternoon lunch, and another bowl in the fridge for tomorrow, and I'm feeling virtuous somehow. If still a little dejected.