our messy table

Category: Tomatoes

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.

Tomato Soup with Fennel

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I wanted to drop in one more time before the Christmas… before our daily routine turns into a wild, roller coaster ride of social events, powdered sugar and too much coffee. The roller coaster is a good analogy for us this time of year, as it is for so many others. Yet as I pondered it this morning, I realized that lately the roller coaster ride has felt a bit like “the new normal” for us. I also pondered over the fact that I don’t like roller coasters.

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So I am savoring this day before the first drop (again with the analogy). All my paper work is (FINALLY) submitted so that my teaching license can be processed. My exit portfolio meeting has been completed. All my required writing and reflecting has been done, done and done again. I have a long-term substitute teaching job coming with the end of Christmas-break, and goodness knows there is much to be done before then. But I am home with two toddlers today, one who is supposed to be napping but is instead watching Thomas the Train. And I am eating leftover soup with a crumble of goat cheese. And steam is pouring from the rim of my favorite coffee cup and I just want to sit here and not think about the roller coaster anymore.

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. . .

I put Molly Wizenberg’s second and newest book, Delancy on every single one of my Christmas lists this year. I and am feeling very hopeful. So as I await the splendid affair that is Christmas, I will pay tribute to her first book, A Homemade life, with the recipe for the very soup I am enjoying right now.

This rustic soup is very easy to make. And like most soups, it gets better with time as the flavors meld. We served it last night with toasted baguette and a light spread of goat cheese. For my toddlers today, I served the leftovers with grilled cheese. I should note that vigorous dunking occurred. In the future I will try serving this soup with parmesan or a drizzle of olive oil. Any way, this humble soup has become my new tomato soup go-to.

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Tomato Soup with Fennel

Adapted slightly from A Homemade Life

Yield 3-4 servings

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• ½ large white or yellow onion
• 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and quartered root to stalk. And thinly sliced
• 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
• Water
• Sea salt, to taste
• Sugar, to taste
• Red wine vinegar, to taste

Warm olive oil in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sliced fennel. Stir to coat and allow to cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic. Allow another 5-7 minutes of cook-time until fennel begins to soften. Watch that the garlic does not burn.

Next, add the canned tomato juice. Use your hand or the lid of the can to hold the tomatoes back. Next, use a fork to break up the whole tomatoes into craggy chunks. Add the tomatoes to the soup. Fill the empty can with cold water and add that as well. Add fennel seeds, thyme and a pinch or two of sugar.

Allow soup to cook uncovered over medium heat until the fennel is melty and soft and the soup has thickened a little. This could take 30-40 minutes. Season with salt to taste. If the soup tastes a bit bland, add a splash of vinegar.

defeat, and tomato soup

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A few nights ago, I was digging through a large box stored away upstairs. This box is large enough to hold all the parts of a twin bed frame, but for the last 4 years, has kept what is left of my college art work.

I was looking for old prints to show a student in my class the following day. And during my search, deep in the bottom of the box, I found old pictures.

My husband doesn’t really like when I look at old pictures. Probably because of how they make me feel. Something about looking into the face – the beaming eyes of a young girl who used to think she had a lot of control over her life and where it was going – makes me feel a bit sad.

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That night, we had just put my son to bed. As soon as I closed his bedroom door I allowed all the bad feelings of the day to flood over me. And my husband was right. It was not a good idea for me to look at those pictures. The pictures of the girl in a cross country uniform standing so fittingly within a group. Her face flushed and triumphant after finishing a race.

Of the girl swinging from monkey bars when she should have been studying for finals. Her ponytail a wavy, yellow mess. Her eyes closed.

That night, after a particularly bad day, it seemed like no matter how hard I tried or hoped, how thin I stretched my abilities, I was not very good at anything. Not a great teacher. Not a great mom. Not a great friend or spouse, housekeeper or artist. And all I wanted to do was isolate myself from everyone. To cement my walls, guarding my vulnerabilities. Keeping me safe from this feeling of defeat. Clasping the old pictures to my chest.

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Yet time, as always, is a funny thing. A frustrating and perfect thing. Because it heals. It grants experience. Wisdom. Perspective.

But it makes us wait.

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And today. Days after that night of low, bad feelings, I am writing about how hope comes in unexpected forms. How, the next day, I saw a student reach out to another in complete, unexpected kindness. How another student, through trial and tribulation, thanked me for helping him complete a project he was proud of.

How my 21-month-old son woke me up this morning by kissing me on the lips… over and over again.

How people really do need each other. For encouragement. For understanding. For direction. For love.

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I often envision myself tightly surrounded by layers and layers of brick, holding old pictures, wishing to be that elusive girl again.

But through the serendipitous roles I have fallen into, as a mother, a spouse, a sister, daughter, and very recently a teacher… through time and perseverance, personal defeat and faint glimmers of hope, the bricks don’t seem as necessary. The walls feel less like a heaven and more like a cage. Something to slowly, but surely, break free from.

. . .

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As fall weather makes its debut, our garden churns out the last of its tomatoes. We are relishing every last one.

Roasted Garden Tomato Soup

Yield 4 servings

  • 3 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large or 4 small cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 400°F. Wrap garlic cloves in a tight foil packet. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on large baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil. Add foil packet of garlic to tray. Roast until tomatoes are brown and tender, about 1 hour. Cool slightly.

Unwrap garlic packet and peel cloves. Transfer cloves, tomatoes and any accumulated juices to a blender or food processor and pulse machine on and off until tomatoes are a chunky puree. Transfer tomatoes to medium pot and add thyme, grated lemon zest and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve with toasted corn tortillas (as we often do) or toasted sourdough bread. We usually top this soup with sharp cheddar.