our messy table

Category: Lentils

service engine soon

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On the current property we are renting, buried deep in one the barns is a lawn mower that works 20% of the time with a blade attachment made for snow removal. Here in the Midwest, when the ground gets very cold, the earth tends to shift. This is a problem. Because in our situation, the winter has shifted a slab of cement in front of the door of the barn so that we cannot open the door to access this mower.

We have a very long driveway, and we have a great many drifts of snow blockading us from the road.

As you may have guessed, this leaves us with no way to remove the snow so we can easily make out way to work every morning.

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My husband has spent roughly 1 hour and 1/2 a tank of gas the last few evenings driving one of our vehicles hap-haphazardly through the snowdrifts (with its blinking “service engine soon” light) to make tracks for his flimsy little car  to make it through in the morning. Then he spent another 20 filling up said flimsy little car’s routinely deflating tires with air.

And sometimes… sometimes it feels like we just don’t fit the mold a smooth-functioning life. Like our life can be summed up to a puzzle with pieces that got sucked on by a toddler then lost under the couch for 8 months. And now we are doomed… doomed to function. Doomed to create a neat and perfectly finished picture.

Sometimes it feels like we are metaphorically my husband’s flimsy little car, and that our life-obstacles are the snow drifts in our driveway and we are just trying to make it through somehow… with a blinking “service engine soon” light and a flat tire.

Its a little scary how quickly the little things can build me up and tear me down. These little things, for me, metaphorically assemble the puzzle of our life;  a finished picture that illustrates where we are. And when it doesn’t come together (which it often doesn’t), I begin to feel defeated. Sometimes depressed. Sometimes angry and like I am completing losing control of myself.

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And sometimes I retaliate against our bad luck. I clear out the basement so our son has a place to ride his bike. I drive to the grocery store and buy ice cream for 3. I paint with my toddler.  I stay home all day making actual meals and spending actual time with my family. I chose to win in the ways that I can.

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Hopefully, with time, the pieces will come together and make sense.

Hopefully, with time, the earth will shift again so we can… you know… get into the barn.

Hopefully, with time, we will get a better grip on things. And when that happens, I sort of hope we miss the old puzzle – the assembled pictures that didn’t quite fit.

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Warm Green Lentil Salad

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, very thinly sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley or cilantro to top (optional)
  • fried egg, to top (optional)

Put a kettle or a pot (containing about 4 cups water) on the stove and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Fold in the carrots and celery.

Add the lentils to the saucepan and stir to coat with the onion mixture. Pour the boiling water into the pan and stop when the level is about ½-inch over the top of the lentils (should be roughly 3 1/2 cups of water). Bring back to a good boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook the lentils for about 20 minutes. Stir in the mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper and cook an additional 10-15 minutes – or until lentils are tender but still slightly chewy.

Remove from the heat and let sit for ten minutes. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper.

Serve warm – with a lightly-fried egg and a sprinkling of parsley on top if you’d like. Leftovers can be covered and refrigerated for an additional 4-5 days.

red lentil soup and “normal”

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Here I am… thinking of all the ways I can get out of “real life” stuff this afternoon. There is something about the holidays – something about time spent away from work and instead spent traveling and being with family and friends. And there is something about my daily intake of sweet, caramelized food that makes me want to drift off to the sparkly land that inhabits all of my happy memories. It makes me want to pretend that the holidays will last forever.

But there are bills to pay, gosh darn it! And do I even care about my waist? It is time to deep freeze my toffee and chocolate-dipped-whatevers for upcoming bad days. It is time to starting thinking of ways to make kale taste good again. Time to look at my bank accounts and make grocery lists and lesson plans and actually fold that massive heap of laundry making itself quite comfortable on the bed. Oh, yes, and my toddler. Shouldn’t I have taught him to count to 10 by now? Shouldn’t my basement be organized and my closet color-coordinated and my next few months of meal plans freshly written out?

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Here is something you should know about me. I am a total loser when it comes to functioning outside of my routine. Some would refer to the horrid term, “control freak”, which always make me cringe. It’s the word “control’ that holds such negative connotation.

I only want control over myself and my son’s nap routine. And that is that, I swear. I have no desire to control other people or the choices they make. They can paint their own picture. Make their own story without me feeling remotely responsible for their success and failure. But my routine is very sacred to me. And here is why:

As lovely as they may be, the holidays do funky things to me (and my digestive system).Once you bring me back to reality, once you remind me of the cost of relaxation, I completely freak out. I floss my teeth excessively. I run 4 miles. I dig into the deep freezer for that sworn-off chocolate. Then I shut down. I think of ways to get out of “real life” stuff. Because life outside of the routine was easier.

So here I am.

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However. I had a very nice day with my son today. A day that felt almost “normal”… whatever that means for us anymore. As for now, I am choosing to believe normal is a day when my son plays with his toys and sings songs and gets mad at me for not turning on his new favorite movie… again. When he naps when he was supposed to and eats dinner and takes a bath and reads books and goes to bed when he us supposed to.

But know there is a human element to my need for control. Know that, as contrary as it sounds, I am grateful for this crazy life that I have no control over. I am so grateful for the crazy people who love me. And though I always freak out a little over the holidays, I am grateful for them as well.

I am grateful and humbled by the people who gave us so much when we do so little to deserve it. I am thankful for “normal”… and the lack thereof, so normal can be something to aspire for.

I am grateful for the roller coasters. For deep freezers. For naps. For family. Friends. And ,once again, for soup.

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We have made the soup quite a bit in the last year, and with several variations. We have used tomato paste instead of canned tomatoes, diced fresh garden tomatoes, thrown in cilantro, omitted the coconut all-together, added fresh ginger, golden raisins, substituted green slip peas for the rice, sauteed in diced carrots, I could go on! This recipe serves as a nice template for the creative soul, but tastes wonderful is it is typed below. We recommend good bread with each serving.

Coconut Red Lentil Soup

Yield: 6 servings

  • 1 1/3 cup split red lentils
  • ½ cup brown rice
  • 6 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, olive of coconut oil (we use butter)
  • 1 Tablespoon curry powder
  • 4 green onions
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

Give lentils and rice a good rinse – until they no longer put off murky water. Place them in an extra-large soup pot, cover with the broth or water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add salt. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft.

In the meantime, in a small dry skillet or saucepan over low heat, toast the curry powder until it is quite fragrant. Be careful though, you don’t want to burn the curry powder. Set aside. Place the butter in a pan over medium heat, add half of the green onions. Saute for two minutes stirring constantly.

Add the toasted curry powder to the mixture, mix well, and then add this to the simmering soup along with the coconut milk and tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or so. The texture should thicken up, but you can play around with the consistency if you like by adding more water, a bit at a time, if you like. Or simmer longer for a thicker consistency.

We’ve been enjoying big ladles of this soup over 1/2 cup of warm farro or brown rice. Quinoa would be an interested alternative. Sprinkle each bowl with the remaining green onions.

surely

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We are a bit late this year. But finally, our garden had been planted.

We had an incident with our starters (they… um… blew away), and our tiller (it… uh… broke) and then there was the issue of where to plant the garden. We are due to move from our rental home at the end of this month. The question, “where to” still begs an answer. But we needed a garden, I declared. We needed fresh vegetables and something constructive to do under the sun. I wanted my son’s little hands to be busy picking beans and watering tomatoes and nurturing things to life. So, my parents were kind enough to let us use their yard for our mass of summer squash, winter squash, beans, dark greens, tomatoes and peppers. We planted carrots and beets in pots, and our herbs rest along the window sill, safety in my kitchen, away from the maddening winds of Iowa.

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We are treading through a transitional time, which isn’t a comfortable process for me. I like change. But the act of changing throws me off. It makes me feel unstable. Like the ground my feet were planted firmly, the ground that I trusted, split into earthy plates and drifted mysteriously away.

After spending the fall, winter and spring babysitting another little boy, my son and I are home alone for the summer. I have been taking advantage of the flexible time, the ability to just pick up and go. But  my son and I miss his play mate. And I miss the predictable routine we had wrapped ourselves into.

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Also, I plan to go back to school full-time in the fall. I have arranged for a babysitter and have been connecting dots and jumping through the hoops that school and life require. I feel excited and ready, but unsteady at the same time. I want the hoops to be lower. The dots to be closer together. And I want immediate answers to the lingering questions only time can answer.

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. . .

I have been thinking a lot about place lately. How the place you chose to live shapes you.

It is clear that my nearly 18-month-old has lived most of his life surrounded by open space. He knew every farm animal sound before he could talk. When he plays outside, the 30 mph wind flapping around his hair and clothes like desperately floundering fish hardly phases him. To him, large bodies of water are astonishing. Boats are mysterious-looking trucks. And probably, mountains are a little scary.

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I know my son will love this garden. And I am really grateful we don’t have to explain the concept of “moving” to him yet. He is still so resilient. So resourceful. And all he needs are my arms to know where home is.

I want to be more like that… you know, more trusting. More resilient. I want to believe home is where the three of us are together. And I think I am getting there. Slowly. But surely.

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. . .

I am pretty addicted to these lentils. I have made them approximately 4 times in the last 2 weeks… wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla, spread over my favorite and easiest bread recipe, and straight from the fridge. My son likes to eat them with a spoon alongside me, but due to the choking hazard, I make sure to leave the walnuts out of his portion.

Lentils folded into Yogurt, Spinach, and Basil

  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, chopped to the size of lentils
  • 2 cups baby spinach or arugula
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup cooked lentils
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup Greek or plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • fine grain sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shaved

With a sharp knife, gently slice the spinach and basil leaves into bite-sized pieces without bruising them. Otherwise, tear by hand.

Place the lentils in a bowl and mix in the spinach and basil. Squeeze the lemon into the lentils (mindful to omit the seeds), mix, and then fold in the yogurt. Mix again, and then pour in the olive oil, stirring, as you do, to combine. At this point, taste the mixture, and season with salt, and two good grindings of pepper. Finally, fold the nuts into the dish, and finish with a drizzle of oil.

The lentils and greens will keep in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for at least three days.

When you’re ready to assemble, bring the lentil mixture to room temperature. Give it a taste, and adjust with more salt or some lemon juice. It can go on toasted bread, in a wrap, over salad or plain. Finish with some Parmesan shavings.