French lentil and wild rice soup


The other day Isaac wrote some sentences. It was for school. Usually he hates writing sentences, he hems and haws and procrastinates and eventually scrawls out a few lines with little thought for legibility or the rules of spelling. But on this occasion he took his time, he enjoyed himself. He told us what he was writing about, he looked pleased, he looked happy. He read us his favorite sentence a few times, “The children were babbling like mad to hear their voices echoing off the canyon walls.” I love this! I love to see him happy with his words, happy with something he’s created. And I love the sentence itself. Sometimes it seems like we’re all children babbling like mad to hear our voices echoing off the canyon walls. We’re all talking and talking, and posting things all over the place, everything we feel and think and notice, everything that annoys us or makes us feel thankful or blessed. We’re sharing our observations and our pictures of ourselves and everyone we love, in all our moods and various flattering lightings. And we’re waiting to hear the echoes back of people liking everything we’ve posted, noticing everything we say. It’s easy to be cynical about this, but if I think about it long enough, I think this is all good, I love all of this. I love people sharing their moments and marking them as blessed or thankful moments. It’s good to notice, it’s good to feel grateful. It can’t be a new thing–people must have always felt this way, wanting to get their thoughts and feelings out, though it wasn’t so easy to share everything so quickly. And maybe it was all better when you had to take your time and think more carefully about everything you said. Maybe words are more precious when they’re not more easily shared, when you have to work and work at it till you get that wonderful buzz from getting it just right. But then I think about how easily and strangely words come to my boys when they’re not thinking about it at all. They’re not even worried about sharing it, they’re not even concerned about the reaction they get. They’re just saying what they think in all of their unselfconscious oddly perfect glory. Malcolm’s favorite adjective is “dancing,” and he uses it in the most unlikely most wonderful places. It throws you off guard with how much sense it makes. And our Isaac always has the right weird words at the right weird time. He was feeling down the other night after it got dark and we sent him to bed, and he said everything felt “damp and broken.” If you’ve ever felt down, which means if you’re human, you know that he got it exactly right. And Isaac likes to share his philosophies. Here’s one: Nobody can do everything, but everyone can try. And here’s another: It’s not done until you do it. And last night he actually spent a lot of time and effort perfecting this ridiculously beautiful tongue twister: I think I thought a thousand thoughts that no-one else could think. And isn’t that the crux of it all! When you’re having trouble getting the words out, or making something that you need to make, or doing something the you need to do…think about the billions of thoughts you’ve thought that no-one else could think. And then think about how important that makes them. And then, children, babble them like mad, until they echo off the canyon walls.

David said this soup was “perfect” and that made me happy! It’s a meaty vegetarian soup. (Vegan if you leave the butter out.) I put a lot of things in it that you certainly don’t need to add if you don’t have them. Honestly, the rice and lentils will give it favor enough. Miso and tamari give it a deeper, more savory flavor, but if you happen not to have them, no worries! If you have marmite, you could add a teaspoon of the instead or as well. I used the herbs that are still in my garden, and I think there’s a perfect balance if you use rosemary, sage, and lemon thyme. If you don’t have those, though, use what you do have! It’s a very adaptable soup. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!

Here’s Twilight Echoes by Roy Smeck.
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Red bean and tarragon stew with fennel and artichoke hearts, and rosemary cornmeal bread

Red bean and tarragon stew

Red bean and tarragon stew

Yesterday was a bright, cold day, with a ripple of agitation as the unseasonable warmth from the beginning of the week was blown away by the cold damp air of today. The sky was white blue, and the late afternoon produced the sort of slanting golden light that tricks you into thinking it’s warmer than it is. And on this late-fall afternoon, you could find me riding all over town, wearing Isaac’s backpack, on Malcolm’s BMX bike. Malcolm’s been home from school all week, and I wanted to pick up his homework and prescription, but I didn’t want to leave him alone too long, and I felt too lazy to haul my bike out of winter hibernation in the basement. So here I was, wheeling around town on a small, bright Tintin-blue BMX wearing a small bright serpent-green backpack. It felt good – the cold air in my lungs harsh but cleansing, the cold air washing through my stale, lack-of-sleep addled brain clearing off the cobwebs. I had this strange sensation – hard to place, familiar, but remote – something I hadn’t experienced in a while. And then it came to me…I felt cool. I felt like a cool kid. I nearly laughed, but that wouldn’t have been cool. I realized that I didn’t feel, for a moment, like a tired and anxious 43-year-old on her son’s BMX. And, of course, that realization brought it all crashing around me, because I was a tired 43-year-old on her son’s BMX. Malcolm’s back in school today, and he told me they’re having an assembly with a BMX ramp and, I assume, skillful young BMXers doing tricks. Wouldn’t it be funny if I came flying down the ramp at the assembly? Waving and shouting, “Yoo hoo, Malcolm! Yoo hoo! It’s mommy!” Heh heh. So Malcolm and I have had a nice week, it’s cold and rainy today, and I miss having him around, though, of course, I’m glad he’s glad to be back in school.

Red bean and tarragon stew

Red bean and tarragon stew

While he was sick he craved brothy foods, and this was just such a meal. It’s quite substantial and has a lot of strong flavors, but they’re all flavors that I love, that work well together. It has a bit of zing to it, which transcends the potential (pleasant) stodginess of beans and potatoes. It’s a good meal for any time of year, really…in the winter I tend to stock up on jars of artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers to relive some of that summery flavor that you can capture fresh in other seasons. I like a nice crusty bread with my stew, so I decided to make one myself. I wanted it to be chewy and dense, but not with a fine crumb. So I added some cornmeal to the mix. And I kept the dough very wet – I had to use the food processor rather than my hands to knead it. I baked it in a bowl that I’d lightly greased, and it got stuck, so I had some trouble getting it out, but it was still delicious. Just a little messy, so you had to pull it apart with your hands, but that’s not such a bad thing!! I guess you could try a non-stick loaf pan, or just mound the dough onto a greased baking sheet. I’ll try it and let you know how it goes!!

Here’s Loch Lomond’s strange and beautiful Wax and Wire, in a video showing the most amazing BMX riding courtesy of Danny MacAskill, and the most beautiful landscapes, courtesy of Scotland.

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Collards with pink beans and crispy masa harina crackers

Collards and red beans

As I hinted yesterday, cooler weather marks the highly anticipated return to stew season, here at The Ordinary. The excitement is palpable – akin to fashion week, really. What kinds of greens will we be eating this year? Will we be cooking red beans or black beans? Small white beans or large white beans? Are chickpeas still in fashion? Of course they are! And we’ll be cooking all the beans! All the greens!

In another lifetime, I might have gone to Gobelins, an animation school in Paris. They produce such clever, beautiful films. Here’s one called Rhapsodie pour un pot-au-feu, which I will share with you as a celebration of stew season…

This particular stew is a little spicy. It has collards, pink beans, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes. It’s saucy and flavorful, seasoned with sage, smoked paprika, and cumin. If you can’t find pink beans, you could use red, pinto, or roman. I made the little crackers with masa harina, and they’re yummy, too. They have a little kick, because they contain cayenne. I fried half in olive oil on top of the stove, and I baked half in olive oil in the oven. The baked ones came out very crispy and quite hard – perfect for dipping in soup, although a little too hard to eat on their own – like rusks, I guess. The fried ones are nice as a snack, though – crispy outside, soft inside.

Masa harina crackers

Here’s Jimmy Smith with Come on Baby, from Home Cookin.
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Chickpea stew with tomatoes, chard and castelvetrano olives

Chickpea, chard, castelvetrano stew

Isaac wants a baby orangutan for a pet, and so do I. Actually he just asked if I’d rather have an elephant, and I think I might rather. He’ll get the orangutan, and I’ll get the elephant. So we’re going to head down to the local animal shelter and see if we can find one of each. He’s home sort-of-sick from school, and watching a show about orphaned orangutans and elephants. They’re raised by humans and then returned to the wild. They’re all so beautiful you could cry! The shot of a herd of baby elephants, red with the dusty earth, running, eager, giant ears held high, following people with soccer balls, threw me for a loop. A loop, I tell you! The film centers on the two women that run the retreats. Rightfully so, I suppose, they’ve given their lives and probably lots of their money to these animals. David and I were thinking it would be interesting to see a movie about the people that work there, and care for the animals every day, as well. Orphaned animals can’t sleep alone. In the wild they cuddle with their mothers, and in this strange environment they have too many bad memories of why they became orphaned animals. There’s a shot of a man trying to sleep, with a baby elephant cavorting all around him. I well remember days of trying to cuddle a toddler to sleep. Can you imagine if the toddler weighed several hundred pounds?! And a scene with a woman cuddling a tiny baby orangutan, singing to him, and rubbing his tummy, as he frowns and struggles to keep his eyes open – well it kills me. I wonder what the lives of these people are like. Do they have children of their own? What strange hours they must work. What a demanding but rewarding job it must be! What kind of dreams do you have when you care for orphaned animals all day and night?

We’re back to stew season, here at The Ordinary! The evenings are drawing in, and it’s time for warm saucy meals. This particular stew extends the bridge between summer and fall. It’s full of fresh tomatoes and basil, chard from the farm, and a sweet roasted red pepper. And it has castelvetrano olives, which I love so much. They’re lovely and bright and juicy, and they’re very pretty with the tomatoes. I had mine with bulgarian feta crumbled on top, but if you leave that (and the bit of butter) out, you have a good vegan meal. Serve it with a salad and a loaf of crispy bread, and you’re golden.

Here’s Elephant Gun by Beirut. It’s a beautiful song, but it’s a sad story of elephant hunting, and it’s why these baby elephants are orphans.

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Potage of quinoa w/ 4 kinds of lentils & 8 kinds of basil

Potage with quinoa and lentils

We visited Monticello last week. It’s so full of beauty, light, and grace that it made me weepy. Less than a mile away, in the visitor’s center, is a recreation of one of Jefferson’s slaves’ dwellings. It’s dark, gloomy, and cramped. That made me weepy, too. Jefferson designed the house with all of the “dependencies” – where the work was done – hidden beneath the building in catacomb-like tunnels. The word “dependencies” struck me as a funny one, in this situation. As you walk through the house and grounds you realize that Jefferson and his family had a complete and childlike dependence on their slaves. Their slaves dressed them, raised their children, grew their food, cooked their food, made their furniture, dug their graves. The man who dug Jefferson’s grave was named Wormley Hughes. He worked in the garden. The garden at Monticello is a thing of wonder. Beautiful, useful, inspiring – a perfect spot to sit and ponder questions of liberty and independence. Wormley Hughes was freed after Jefferson’s death, and shortly thereafter, his wife and 8 of his children were divided and sold.

It’s a discombobulating experience, visiting Monticello. So much beauty, and cleverness – so many good ideas being exchanged, and important work being done. And literally hidden beneath all of it, so much pain and suffering.

Sorry to go on about it! It’s on my mind. I did buy some seeds in the gift shop, to plant in our garden. I’m very excited about our garden this year. We have about 8 kinds of basil, and that’s what I used to make this dish! Back in the Ye Olde Days, they used to have “potage gardens,” and the fruits and vegetables grown there would be used to make potage, a thick stew or porridge. The potage combined all of the different elements of a meal in one bowl, and was a staple in the diet of peasants. This particular potage contains 4 kinds of lentils – beluga, french, red, and split moong. The beauty of this, is that when they’re all cooked together, the quick-cooking varieties (I’m talking to you, moong & red!) melt into a creamy background, while the slower-cooking types (french and beluga) remain a bit al dente. So you have a nice mix of textures. If you can’t find beluga lentils or split moong dal, you could make this with french and red, which are both fairly easy to locate. I roasted the cauliflower separately, because I like that smoky flavor, and then pureed half with broth, and added half whole. This is quite a thick, satisfying dish, and it’s flavorful as well – seasoned with ginger, smoked paprika and tons of fresh basil. It’s funny, though – lentils are so pretty when they’re raw, and so drab when cooked. They make up for it with supreme tastiness, though!

Here’s Blind Willie McTell with Amazing Grace. He doesn’t sing, but it’s almost as if the guitar is speaking the words.
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Slow cooker stew with red winter wheat, moong dal and collards

Red winter wheat, moong dal, collards

Isaac is home from school with strep throat. We’ve drawn a little book of bugs, drawn mixed-up dinosaurs (Isaac declared himself “pretty impressed” with my mixed up pteranadon/prehistoric shark!), and we’ve gone to the doctor, where he danced all around, charming the nurses, and didn’t seem very sick at all. It’s been a cold and rainy couple of days. Perfect for lying around in PJs drawing dinosaurs. Perfect for making brothy, flavorful stews in your slow cooker!! This stew combines hard red winter wheat, moong dal and collard greens – a green that can stand up to a long cooking-time if ever there was one! Hard red winter wheat (also called wheat berries, I think!) is pretty and very tasty, but needs to cook for a while (hello, slow cooker!). I chose to pair it with moong dal because whole moong dal, which also needs to cook for a very long time, is so bright and pretty and green, and looked so nice with the red winter wheat. An aesthetic culinary pairing! Of course, when they’re cooked they both pretty much look brown – but pretty tawny brown! If you don’t have moong dal on hand, you could use any other dried bean in this stew. Black-eyed peas might be nice!

The broth is smoky and a little sweet, with a kick of cayenne. The texture of the stew is quite nice – the moong dal becomes soft, the winter wheat remains a little chewy, and everything retains a bit of its original character, though it all goes well together.

Here’s Chico Hamilton with Mulligan Stew. I love this!
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Red bean hominy stew & little cornmeal “quiches”

red bean posole stew

I’ve been feeling super blechy the last few days. Headache, stomachache, sore throat, the ague. I’ve got the ague, I tell you!! So I wanted to make something spicy and flavorful to clear the sinuses and get past my dulled palate. So I made this stew…red beans, zucchini, hominy and some spices – lots of spices. Hominy is, as I understand it, corn kernels, skins removed, treated with lime. Round here, you can buy it in cans (Goya! Oh boya!). It has a mysterious taste and a lovely texture. Soft but firm. It makes a very very nice addition to a saucy spicy stew. This stew was so pretty when it first started cooking – red, green and white. Lovely.

cornmeal quiches

To go with it, I made these tasty little…good golly, I’m not sure how to describe them! They’re not popovers, not muffins. For all the world, they’re like tiny little quiches. They make their own crust…of cornmeal toasted in brown butter. And the inside stays very dense and eggy and ridiculously comforting and tasty. They’re quite magical! They’re not hard to make, and I think they’re gluten free. I might try them next time with some grated cheese stirred into the mix, to make them more quiche-y than ever.

Here’s Old Corn Liquor, by Joe Thompson. He’s remarkable! And this meal really did include corn in just about every form but liquor.
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Kale, sweet potato & chickpea stew with cumin, paprika & lime

Kale :& chickpea stew

Kale is not one of those shy and retiring greens that wilts away to nothing at the first sign of attention. I admire that quality. The presence of kale in this dish is probably what makes it a stew rather than a soup. The kale retains its curly, assertive texture to make this thick and hearty. The sweet potato and golden raisins add a touch of sweetness, and the chickpeas – well, you can’t go wrong with chickpeas, can you? The broth of this stew is a lovely mixture of flavors…it’s the broth that transforms humble, potentially stodgy ingredients into something exciting to eat. Smoky paprika, earthy cumin, spicy red pepper, and bright, tart lime. We ate these with pumpkin popovers.

Here’s DJ Food with Stealin Stew

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Fennel, white beans, walnuts …

… tomatoes, olives, capers, white wine, rosemary…
We’ve decided to have a lot of saucy soups and stews this week. Not sure why, it just seems like a good second-week-of-January menu. This particular saucy stewy dish is the kind of meal that is quick and healthy, but that you would make even if it wasn’t, because it tastes so good. Everybody in my family ate it in a slightly different fashion. I had it as a kind of warm salad, over red leaf lettuce and arugula, topped with gorgonzola, which got a little wilty and was really nice with the walnuts and fennel. My littlest son had it with pasta. Which is to say he ate a bowl of pasta and butter. My older son had the white bean … ragu, shall we call it? over gemelli pasta, and my husband had a mixture of pasta and arugula with his ragu. My favorite part of this meal was the walnuts. A nice unexpected crunch, a lovely toasty flavor. This would also be good with rice, or just a nice loaf of crusty bread.

Here’s King Curtis’ wonderful Memphis Soul Stew. I love this kind of song, I really do.
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