The baby’s sleeping, the baby’s sleeping: quick, write about lentils! The truth is what I really want to write about is the soft spring rain (not even sure we can call it that as it feels more like a mist) and the pillowy cherry blossoms gracing what feels like every street in Seattle. We have a large shrub in our front yard and every year I forget that it actually blooms until one morning in early April when I look outside and BAM it’s filled with the most gorgeous white blossoms. It’s a good time for evening scooter rides (if you’re Oliver), and making plans for a modest summer garden. It’s a good time for salad for dinner, too, which is where these lentils come into play.
I was originally testing this salad to bring to book club a few weeks back, but I had trouble finding asparagus at the time and ended up making a much simpler version — still delicious, but a little less special. Now that I’m on maternity leave I have more time to actually make something homemade for book club and do all manner of odd errands like searching high and low for asparagus, taking my wedding dress to be cleaned (yes, yes it HAS been sitting in my closet for years thank you very much), and consigning some of the clothes Oliver’s grown out of. Things that feel quite gratifying but that I generally wouldn’t have the space in my schedule to tackle.
While I’ve been really drawn into the kitchen lately, things need to be kept pretty simple because, well, at any moment Frances could wake up and … game over. I know so many of us are drawn to simple food these days anyway, so the goal was to keep the steps pretty minimal here and the method straightforward so that this feels like a super doable recipe.
Thankfully when it comes right down to it, this salad needs little adornment or fussing: it’s colorful, texturally balanced, and has the perfect zippy red wine and honey dressing. The glazed walnuts add crunch and just a touch of sweetness, and if you’re eating dairy I think it’d be killer with some soft goat cheese folded in at the end. Bring on the spring picnics — or, more realistically, the casual lunches eaten while perched on the kitchen counter thumbing through the mail and staring at the blooming trees outside. Spring, we’re so happy to see you.
This salad is best enjoyed slightly warm or at room temperature, so if you make it in advance, take note of that before serving. You could substitute in other veggies you’re particularly excited about or bulk it up with leftover grains. And a quick note on the dressing: at first you may feel like there’s an awful lot of it here, but trust that the lentils soak it up.
For the Salad:
For the Dressing
Rinse the lentils and put them in a saucepan filled with salted water. Add the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to a simmer, and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until lentils are tender yet chewy (check them often so as not to overcook).
While the lentils are cooking, prepare the other veggies: In a large sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leek and asparagus, sprinkle with salt and give them a good stir, and cook for 5-7 minutes. or until asparagus is tender. Add the garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.
Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, salt, shallot and pepper.
When the lentils are done cooking, drain them and scoop into a large salad bowl. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Fold the asparagus mixture into the bowl and dress while everything is warm.
Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if desired.
Fold in the parsley, tarragon and walnuts. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)