On the City Pattern Project: Special Remembrance of Lentil Soup Past Edition

09Nov08

In which The Gay Recluse cooks.

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Yesterday we went for a walk in the rain, in part because we wanted to check out what was happening uptown, and in part because none of the grocery stores around us carry the curly parsley that we needed for the lentil soup we planned to make.

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We’ve been making this recipe for at least twenty years, ever since our mother taught it to us before we went to college.

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She got it from Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore Lappé, which according to the site was first published in 1971 and has sold over 3 million copies. We lost our copy a long time ago in one of our many moves, but fortunately we’ve memorized the recipe (or some version of it that works for us!).

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Even before we were born (and before Diet for a Small Planet was written) our mother was into “health food,” as it used to be called.

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She had a crazy uncle “Jimmy” from California who visited our family in Pittsburgh — this was in the mid-60s, when California used to be liberal and “cutting-edge,” (unlike now, ha). The story goes that he showed up in an RV filled with his own provisions for the entire cross-country trip. He was a missionary for a new way of eating: he taught our mother about whole wheat and the evils of processed sugar. Believe it or not, back then most people (i.e., idiot doctors, especially!) didn’t make the connection between what you eat and your health — which is why everyone thought “Jimmy” was crazy — but all of this resonated with our mother, who was always looking to expand the confines of her suburban existence. When he left, she threw out everything in her kitchen that contained white flour or sugar, which was pretty much everything (much to the dismay of our older siblings, who would not see a cookie for the next four or five years).

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This was the start of our mother’s Cultural Revolution. In many ways, we were the beneficiary: when our mother was pregnant with us a few years after Jimmy’s visit, she forced herself to drink “Tiger’s Milk” (the homemade kind, with blackstrap molasses) throughout the entire pregnancy, which she thinks is why we were the tallest of her children, even though we were the last of five. (But hmmm, did it make us gay? Hey science, get on that!)

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Predictably, our mother had softened somewhat by the time we were growing up, so that we were given liberties that would have been unthinkable to our older siblings. (Hello, Ho-Ho’s!) But we were still raised on “brown bread,” and all “sugar cereals” — e.g., Frosted Flakes — were verboten. She used to say that all forms of white bread were “enbalmed.”

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There’s no question that revolution can be epic and sweeping, but it can also be as simple as a pot of soup. We often look with dismay at the rows and rows of shit — sodas and potato chips, etc. etc. — they sell in the stores around here and we know that the world would be a better place if everyone made more lentil soup. (But it’s worth noting that we often think this as we reach for a bag of potato chips.)

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But our own imperfections aside, the soup represents our highest ideals: the ingredients are cheap, but still represent generations of striving for something greater — i.e., more just — than what we are originally given.

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Lentil Soup, The Gay Recluse Style:

In a large soup pot, sauté one large white onion and a bag of carrots (chop them up, obvs) in olive oil with a lot of thyme and marjoram. Add two large cans of crushed tomatoes, a bag of lentils, an entire bunch of curley parsely (i.e., the kind used for decoration, also chopped up) and four cans of water (the same size as the crushed tomatoes). Bring to a boil and then simmer for a few hours until done. Add salt and pepper to taste. Prior to serving, splash some sherry into it and sprinkle with grated swiss cheese. Eat, feel healthy and ecologically in tune. (At least until dessert — some storebought chocolate cake and ice-cream — lolz.)



4 Responses to “On the City Pattern Project: Special Remembrance of Lentil Soup Past Edition”

  1. The more I read you, the more I think we were sharing the same childhood and mothers.

  2. Thanks Suz — I think there were probably quite a few suburban mothers out there in the 60s who stretched their wings and got involved in the women’s movement and other kinds of civil rights, health food (yoga!) and similarly oriented consciousness-raising (to use another catch-phrase from the time) efforts. As I told my mother, I think these women deserve a lot of credit for helping pave the way to an election like the one we had last week!

  3. 3 Jan

    The older sibling of the Gay Recluse Reminisces: We had cookies, whole wheat, wheat germ, raisins, choppd nuts, unrefined sugar. Dry little nuggets, full of wholesome ingredients. In sixth grade, Romaine Recker sat directly behind me and always had potato chips in her lunch. I had brown bread sandwich, organic peanut butter, cookies and an apple. No chips. I gave my kids chips in their lunch.

    Note: I add my parsley just prior to serving lentil soup.

  4. Thanks for that on-the-scene reporting, Jan! I obv had Ho-Hos and Twinkies in my lunch, but on the whole I prefer brown bread to white!


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