I practice balancing cookbooks and utensils while tucked away in our small apartment in the city. I’ve never been a fan of overhead lighting, so I set the mood for myself with leftover bulbs from the holidays. Pour a glass of wine. Light incense. Unpack the modest drawer next to the oven that is a mix of wooden spoons + silverware washed in a rush before work. I’m happy to see a cutting board after a long day of uncertainty. I can make sense of these tools, the spoons and knives waiting for me to pick them up and perform a familiar dance. I know that whatever happens here, it’s all going to be O.K. There is no revenue tied to the lentil soup – no pretense about what this will be.
In the background, Cynthia Ozick reads In the Reign of Herad IV by Steven Millhauser. Her voice cracks and wheezes through each sentence and I can feel the miniature art pieces come to life, from fantastical creatures to ornate furnishings. The artist in the story, constructs smaller and smaller miniatures until they are only visible through a special lens. In truth, this is me time, when the whole world just melts away. This is when I can get lost in a world that is all about the small details. And I guess that’s always been cooking + baking for me, these tiny art pieces that get washed away only to remake them again.
I imagine myself piecing words (or recipes) together with similar grace, but I know it will take more than faith and optimism to construct this intricate of a building. I tell myself, rinse the lentils, roast the garlic, don’t think about the architecture of the story, peel the potatoes, chop the onions, small – like miniatures the smallest dollhouse. Focus on your hands.
I come to the kitchen with all the lightness + heaviness from the day, as if somewhere between these small cooking techniques lays the answer to the things my heart does not know what to do with. Nothing else seems to sort it all out, so why not here, between kitchen utensils + the neighbors’ voices filtering in from the streets. I make cornbread in my grammy’s cast iron skillet, calculating buttermilk substitutes and dreaming of her recipe drenched in butter and honey. Lately, I’m ballooning with memories that are sometimes my own and at times, borrowed from ones passed down like invisible furniture.
Memory is a delicate ingredient. I know not to get carried away or pine for things I cannot change. And still, some days, it pours with no ending. Nostalgia was built to hold both joy + grief, like loneliness.
Mince, roast, check the temperature of the oven. Simmer. And there it is, between all the messiness of the day and potato skins – the feeling that you get when your feet finally come back to the ground.
Stir. Whisk. Bake. Slice. Serve.
-Spicy Lentil Soup –
1 cup tricolor lentils
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
4 cloves roasted garlic*
1/2 ripe vine tomato, chopped
1 potato, cubed
2 tbs olive oil
4 cups water
5 tsp vegetable bouillon
1 tbs cumin
2-3 green onions, chopped
In a small pot, bring 4 cups of water to boil. Add vegetable bouillon and stir until thoroughly dissolved + turn off heat. In a cast iron skillet, or the oven, roast 4 whole cloves of garlic for 3-5 minutes or until lightly brown.
In a medium pot, saute crushed roasted garlic, onions, and cumin for 2-3 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add tomatoes + potatoes and saute for an additional 2-3 minutes.
Add vegetable broth and 1 cup of lentils, simmer for 20-25 minutes until the lentils are soft.