Seeking Soup Perfection

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by Shelley Shepard Gray

I made French Onion soup today. My husband has had bronchitis and feeling under the weather. I’ve felt so badly for him I ran to the store, picked up 5 yellow onions, and started slicing. Hours later, I brought him a bowl of something I’m inordinately proud of.

There’s a story here. See, I really like French Onion Soup but for years I couldn’t make it very well. I must have tried a dozen recipes over the years. Okay, maybe even more than that. Some were relatively easy; others asked the cook (me!) to spend hours in the kitchen, carefully slicing yellow onions into stewed goodness. Usually this resulted in lots of stewed onions, but not so much goodness.

Finally, about four years ago, I was successful with an old recipe from the venerable Julia Child. And based on this, well, it’s no wonder she was such a revered chef. Her recipe is time consuming and meticulous. But I embraced my ‘Do what Julia would do’ ideology when it comes to cooking. That means I don’t drift from her recipes. At all. For me, for that soup, at least, I have found perfection. I can now produce a bowl of very good French Onion Soup.

Do you have some task or project or thing that you always strive to improve upon? For my husband, it’s growing tomatoes. Every year he’s sure that he’s going to have the best crop. He spends hours out there with his tomatoes, weeding, nurturing, pruning. Some seasons have been better than others. But there’s nothing like seeing his smile when he carries one beautiful tomato inside, washes it carefully, then proceeds to eat it like an apple.

That moment, that day? He has achieved tomato perfection.

All this thinking about improvement and perfection is rooted in a conversation I had with some of my writing girlfriends the other day. We were talking about deadlines and writing. One was more than a little stressed out because she was frustrated with what she saw as weaknesses in her writing. She wanted it to be better. To show that continually working on the craft of writing for over a dozen years has yielded something phenomenal. Actually, she would have settled for pretty good.

I admit that I’ve been frustrated with my own writing strengths and weaknesses from time to time. I love reading other authors and being in awe about the way they can put a sentence or a phrase together. My writing simply doesn’t have that sort of panache.

But then I have to give thanks to the Lord for something I often take for granted.

He’s not only given me the ability to write, but to find satisfaction in the process. To be happy with what I can do right now. I think that I’m a better writer than I was fifty books ago. Perhaps if I am able to write another fifty, I’ll be better then.

Maybe I won’t.

But I do hope I will do my best to remind myself to find the joy in the process and the talents I have right now.
I may never write a book that I could compare to the excellence of Julia’s French Onion Soup. But that’s okay. I have a feeling Julia might tell me that her soup wasn’t all about perfection. It was simply called dinner for family and friends.

And that was absolutely good enough.

Shelley Shepard GrayShelley Shepard Gray writes Amish romances for Harper Collins’ inspirational line, Avon Inspire and historical romances for Zondervan. Her novels have been Holt Medallion winners and Inspirational Readers Choice and Carol finalists. Shelley’s novels have appeared on both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. Living in southern Ohio and writing full time, Shelley is married, the mother of two college students, and is an active member of her church. She is active on Facebook and her website at

Comments 0

  1. Okay, what’s the recipe?? 🙂 And 50 books. Wow!! That is awesome.

    I discovered a few years ago, it was all about the journey. That I needed to stop stressing about getting published and focus on simply writing the best story I could. And I’ve noticed that each book gets better. Thanks for the reminder about comparing ourselves to others and what perfection is.

  2. Never tried french onion soup but love onions. May have to try it. I would be only eating it in my house, though.
    Never realized that you have written so many books. May the Lord bless you with many stories to come.

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