Whew. That last month was a killer. I felt like I was drowning in the chirpy kind of new years optimism that makes me hate people. There was way too much talk about how 2016 was going to somehow make up for the fact that last year sucked ass for a lot of us or instantly transform us into healthier, happier versions of ourselves. I don’t know how many times over the month I heard (or read on Facebook) “2016 is going to be amazing! This is MY YEAR!” or “I’ve been to the gym every day this month and I feel so great!” or “I’ve given up sugar and I’m never going back!” I want to punch these people in the mouth. Because here’s the thing. January. It’s the worst. If you want to be part of the club then it’s all diet and exercise and fiscal responsibility. I’m sorry, but that is stuff to be endured, not stuff to be celebrated.
The first half of the month I felt too crappy to be in the club. I was in a “screw it, who cares, I’m going to eat this whole bag of candy and this block of cheese, and wash it down with a couple glasses of wine while I mope around feeling sorry for myself” frame of mind. It just so happens that two of my favorite people have birthdays early in the month which ensured that there was enough cake and party atmosphere to keep me from going down the tubes completely. Even when your birthday is in January you get cake. And when there is cake around, I eat it. It was a dismal, yet delicious couple of weeks.
Then, half way through the month I miraculously felt better. Better enough in fact to decide I was going to pull myself together and join the January club. For the last three weeks I’ve been “eating light” and “working out” and “cutting back on all the foods that make life worth living”. I’m drinking enough water to cause a minor drought and force feeding my family quinoa. Our meals suddenly look like this:
It’s not fun, but it hasn’t been so bad. I go between feeling virtuous, deprived, and discouraged. I think that if everyone else in your house is eating potato chips and you are choosing not to, you should instantly lose three pounds. Ditto if you have raw oatmeal (which, crazy as it sounds, I actually kind of like) or sugar snap peas for breakfast. Honestly, I’m glad to be cleaning up my act a bit because I know it’s essential to detox from time to time, but my physical self doesn’t feel that different. A little stronger, maybe, from all the squats I’ve been doing, in a better frame of mind, perhaps, but there is no amazing transformation for me because of eliminating sugar or quadrupling my intake of leafy greens.
My poor husband is anxiously awaiting my fall back into culinary hedonism (don’t worry Honey, it’s coming). He has been working physically hard, outside, in the nastiest Pacific Northwest weather and all he wants to eat is meat. Or meat on bread. Or meat on pasta. And what counts as meat? Not chicken breast, I can tell you that. He tries to be supportive, since I am cooking dinner every night after all, but when he hears the words ‘squash tacos’ or ‘lentils’ or ‘kale salad’ in the same sentence as ‘dinner’ it’s hard for him to hide his disappointment. So there have been compromises all around.
I was ever so glad to turn the page on the calendar and leave January behind. There will be no more ‘Happy New Year!’ wishes, no more humble brags about resolutions, no more pinning hopes on 2016 to solve our problems. Now we are all just here, healthy or not, happy or not, having an easy time or a difficult one. The pressure is off and that feels just right.
I’m going to leave you with my un-recipe for French Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale. It’s very much a compromise meal, healthy, but still satisfying for those who aren’t putting limits on their diet. As you may have gathered by now, I don’t cook from or write recipes very often so these are rough guidelines. Feel free to make it your own, but don’t skip the mustard seeds, they take the soup from blah to gourmet-ish.
French Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale
1 pound sweet Italian Sausage (bulk, or removed from the casings)
1 large onion, diced
6 stalks of celery, diced
6 carrots, peeled and diced
2 cups French lentils
2 quarts chicken stock, vegetable broth or water
1 bunch Lacinato kale (this is the flatter, dark green kale sometimes called black or dinosaur kale, my favorite by far)
1 Tablespoon brown mustard seeds
Fresh or dried thyme
1-3 Tablespoons sherry vinegar, or red wine vinegar if you don’t have sherry
Salt and pepper
Brown the sausage in a large soup pot, breaking it up as it cooks. When it is most of the way cooked, add the onion and celery. Cook until the veggies are tender. Add the lentils, carrots, stock and mustard seeds, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the lentils are soft, at least an hour, adding more stock or water as needed and stirring occasionally. Add the thyme and kale and cook for another 20 minutes or so (it’s soup, the timing is not critical). If your sausage was particularly fatty, there may be oil that collects on the top as it cooks. Skim it off or leave it in as you see fit. The soup will taste a little one dimensional at this point but a couple tablespoons of sherry vinegar and some salt will transform it. Just make sure to add the vinegar a little at a time and taste as you go, too much will not be yummy.
This soup freezes well. You could be super organized and freeze it in individual portions for future lunches.
Serve with bread and cheese or salad or nothing at all.