Thursday, April 12, 2012

in the midst of chaos

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on April 11, 2012.


I love it when my girlfriends come to visit. Good conversation energizes me and is a welcome diversion from the daily humdrum routine. Sometimes, however, maintaining a thread of coherent conversation while simultaneously mothering my little ones can be a feat of monumental proportions.

Such was the case one day in February. A not-often-seen friend was scheduled to arrive for lunch, so I corralled my two younger children (the older ones weren’t home) and briefed them on my expectations for their behavior.

But when my girlfriend glided through the door, oozing charm and goodwill, my children flew into a tizz of happy excitement. A new person is in the house and she’s smiling at us, whee! Promptly they forgot (or intentionally neglected to remember) my lecture. My fantasy of a peaceful meal—my friend and I expounding on all manner of weighty topics and my children sitting as quiet and still as holy church mice—fluttered straight out the window.

While I sauteed the spinach, ladled the thick, creamy lentil soup into bowls, and made a stab at preliminary catch-up talk, the children grabbed silverware out of the drawer. They scraped their stools across the floor tiles. They chattered nonstop. My stress levels shot through the roof.

Then during the meal, the children slyly kicked each other under the table. They picked at the food without interest, impishly stuck their fingers in their water glasses, and clanked their spoons against their bowls. They interrupted. They rocked on their stools. Their behavior wasn’t full-on intentional naughtiness, but in no way whatsoever did they resemble the timid little church mice of my dreams.

I had two choices. I could either disrupt the adult conversation to correct their behavior, or I could ignore them. Since focusing on them would draw attention to them even more, and since I was already discombobulated enough, I chose the latter. Shifting my body so I was directly facing my friend, I tried to pretend my kids weren’t even present. Only occasionally did I shoot them some hairy eyeballs, which they deftly dodged.

Preparing my children for a proper company lunch is hit or miss. Some days they behave beautifully. Other days—well, now you know how those go. Thank goodness I had taken measures with the food so I wouldn’t have to stress over that as well. The lemony red lentil soup, with mounds of sauteed greens, brown rice, and plain yogurt on top, was a smash hit. My girlfriend and I both had seconds.

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon and Spinach

Inspired by a recipe on Heidi Swanson’s blog 101 Cookbooks.

2 cups red lentils, rinsed
6 cups chicken broth (or water)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon turmeric
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 medium onions, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons yellow mustard seed
2-3 lemons, the juice of
lots of fresh spinach
cooked brown rice
plain yogurt
black pepper

Put the lentils, turmeric, 1 tablespoon butter, and salt in a large pot and add the chicken broth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are very soft. Puree the soup using a handheld immersion blender or a regular blender.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and add the onions, cumin, and mustard seed. Saute until the onions are very soft—about 15-20 minutes.

Add the onions to the pot of pureed soup. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Taste to correct seasonings.

Immediately before serving, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a large skillet and add the spinach. Sprinkle with salt and toss until wilted.

To serve: fill the bowls with soup and garnish liberally with scoops of warm brown rice, the sauteed spinach, plain yogurt, and freshly ground black pepper.

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