Many folks  have been asking me if I was still writing my blog. No, you haven’t missed it. I have been out of town. Out of town and not cooking. While I am not going to get into the details, I will share this sad, but true fact with you. Over the course of about seven weeks I cooked a grand total of zero meals! Yes, I just said that over a month and a half I did not cook. How is that possible, you say? Well, I was visiting a lot of family and friends who felt the need to cook for us, take us out to eat and bring take out over to the house.

What, specifically did I eat, you ask? Now, I love pizza, but no one was meant to subsist on pizza several times a week. In our house we probably eat pizza once every two weeks or so. Often it is of the frozen variety with fresh ingredients (especially caramelized onions) added to make it fabulous. In Chicago, pizza comes with extra cheese and lots of sausage, which leads me to my next point. There is the unspoken rule that at least two meals a day in Chicago need to consist of meat. Don’t get me wrong. Jeff and I love animal protein, (remember the meat loaf tasting)? But I like to spread out my ingestion of beef and sausage to a few nights a week.  During our absence we ate sauce and balls (meatballs that is), sausage and peppers, steaks, braised short ribs and “Big Beef” (Two massive prime ribs for Flynn Fest Christmas). As for the restaurant and take out fare, we were no less decadent. There were scallops, lobster mac, sushi…more steaks, meat burritos, pork chops, fois gras and duck confit. I shouldn’t forget to mention the vats of wine and pots of coffee that we consumed.

Why am I sharing this with you? To rub it in? No, I am telling you about this because I was living the life of a professional food writer and I hated it. More importantly my body hated it and told me so. I do not need to share what happens to a healthy body when it subsists on the diet I have just explained. It isn’t pretty. So when I returned home I made a pact that I would put only simple, healthy, homemade ingredients into my body. For a week, I started my day with a bit of freshly made juice, I baked a loaf of bread every two days, I conjured up soups and stews nightly…and I foresaked my beloved morning latte and glass of wine with dinner. How did this make me feel? After one week of this “diet” my gall bladder decided not to go on strike, I dropped three pounds, the bags under my eyes that were big enough to take me around the world and back disappeared and I experienced some mental clarity that had escaped me for over a month.

Did I continue to “just say no” to rich, decadent foods? Heck no. After a week I asked Jeff to bring home a frozen pizza. The next night though, I went back to the pact of simple, real foods. While I am fairly certain that no one else in this valley has been to the extreme that I went to with food, the holidays are definitely a time for overindulgence. Make a pact with yourself this year. Try and cook simple food, made of real ingredients more nights than not. Your body, heart and mind will thank you.

Simple French Lentil Stew

This recipe is based off of one I got from my aunt in Seattle. French lentils are smaller than traditional brown or red lentils and don’t get quite as mushy. That being said, you can substitute any lentil, but may need to adjust cooking times. In the winter this stew is perfect served over brown rice with a hunk of homemade bread. In the summer, don’t add the carrots, tomatoes or greens, cool it in the fridge and serve tossed with baby spinach and a light vinaigrette. This makes enough for two servings, unless you are a Jeff-like eater (big appetite) in which it is enough for one big meal.

2 tsp olive oil

½ c diced yellow onion

1 medium clove garlic, minced

½ c diced carrot

2 canned tomatoes or ½ c diced tomato*

¾ c chicken or veggie broth**

¾ c water

1/3 c French lentils

1 small bay leaf

¼ tsp fresh thyme or 1/8 tsp dried

1-2 handfuls baby spinach, kale or Swiss chard

* Stew Version* Dash of red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar or 1 tsp lemon juice

*Salad Version* 1 Tbs olive oil, 1 tsp red wine or sherry vinegar, ¼ tsp Dijon mustard

  • Heat a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, onion, and garlic. Sauté 5-8 minutes or until onion softens.
  • Add remaining ingredients, except greens. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook partially covered for 45 minutes or until lentils are cooked but still firm.
  • Stew Version: If using kale or chard, remove tough stems, roughly chop and add to stew 30 minutes into cooking. If using spinach, add 40 minutes into cooking. Serve over brown rice and toss with a dash of vinegar or the lemon juice.
  • Salad Version: Remove from heat and cool in refrigerator for a couple of hours. Mix olive oil, vinegar and mustard in a small jar. Toss lentils, spinach and vinaigrette in a bowl and serve.

* You can store unused diced or whole canned tomatoes in a jar in the fridge for a couple of days. If you don’t think you will use them, store them in the freezer in a small plastic storage container.

** Buy good quality broths. They do make a difference. You can freeze the leftover broth in ice cube trays and store in labeled Ziploc bags. 1 ice cube = appx 2 Tbs liquid. 2 Tbs = ¼ c. Repunzel makes a good veggie broth cube. The no salt is version is best. ½ cube = 1 c broth.

2 serving lentils