I did not read “Eat Pray Love” and I most certainly did not see the movie and that is saying something since I take great pride in my ability to sit through absolutely anything, from the simply tedious to the morally agonizing. I am quite the connoisseur of crap chick flicks and beach reads, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put up with Elizabeth Gilbert. I thought the book was kind of offensive, actually, though I guess it’s not really fair for me to judge since I read less than a paragraph before I commenced with the eye rolling and with the throwing of it across my loft. If I hadn’t been permanently scarred by an incident when I was four that involved a Winnie the Pooh picture book, some scissors and my irate dad shaking his finger at me, wildly screaming, “WE do NOT deface books in this house!” (I couldn’t bring myself to even highlight books when I was in college and I still have an unnatural fear of libraries), I may have lit it in a ceremonial bonfire in an act of literary rebellion and out of personal disgust.
But love it or hate it, you certainly can’t deny Gilbert’s impact on people-- lots and lots of people. I was having a hard time understanding exactly why anyone else really cared about Gilbert’s personal journey; how their own longing was connected to this privileged woman’s premeditated (a nice book advance makes for some pretty awesome truffle pasta, some swanky caftans and lots of elephant rides) and fully funded-by-someone-else’s experience. I thought maybe it was that we’ve all just gotten used to this conscious/ produced faux reality because of the current trends in television programming, but the Bossy Blonde offered up her own theory:
“The book is successful because, even though she doesn’t give great detail as to why, you find her at the beginning, in total devastation, rock bottom and destroyed on the floor of her bathroom and you instantly care about her and where she’s going.”
Well I didn’t get that far. But since Bossy is an accomplished and very talented writer herself and I like saying her three favorite words on the planet, I’ll just offer this up: she is right.
And like any successful narcissist (blogger, cough cough) I wondered why anyone other than my mother (thanks for reading, by the way, Mom) would give a rat’s ass about my little stories and recipes.
I never had that crying on the floor, soul sucked out my body moment, and I’ve certainly never written about it. No, my low point was not so dramatic or so acute; it was a long, slow simmer on a threadbare velvet couch with all sorts of bad television playing in the background that lasted for months. And it didn’t end with a book deal, with carb loading, with a self-conscious religious epiphany or with a hot dude (well, at least not yet, a girl has to have hope).
My environment is what I like to think of as urban camping; I live in an ancient, converted machine shop in a gang/tag infested and taco truck-heavy neighborhood. My goldsmithing tools, equipment, supplies and showroom are on the first floor next to a separate kitchen stuffed with a village of maniacally self-labeled jars of spices and with overpopulated shelves of appliances and cheap bowls. I live upstairs with my cat, Monkey, and try to keep my feet from getting too dirty from all the industrial dust. I don’t have air conditioning (which totally sucked when it got to 113 degrees on Monday) or heat (which I try to ameliorate with no less than ten cheap space heaters) and the downstairs bathroom’s toilet seat pinches your tush when you sit on it. Glamorous: no. Romantic in a slightly skewed, bohemian way when written down: yes. But it’s certainly not for everyone.
Looking around at the crumbling, beautiful walls just shy of a year ago, I realized that I had isolated myself in this neighborhood, in this loft away from my friends and from the people who would tell me “no” and “buck up” and “those pants bring a whole new level of hideousness into the world”. I totally understood why Michael Jackson lived in a theme park and why he was bat shit crazy. I had made excuses to stay in and to not go and see great new bands, to not go to new restaurants, to not date new people. It’s easy to wind up miserable on a couch watching “Inside the Brookhaven Institute for the Super Morbidly Obese” with your cat and with the big bag of Nacho flavored Doritos, licking the crappy powdered cheese off your fingers like your psychic wounds, trust me on this one.
I had spent my life waiting. Waiting to meet the right person for this life to begin. Waiting to outfit my kitchen with the “real” relics of a life like nice dishes (Heath Ceramics!) and All-Clad pots. Waiting to learn to cook until I had someone to cook for, even though I had myself to cook for all along.
But then it happened. Gradually. With one small movement. One step off the couch and with one head of cauliflower from the farmer’s market. One silly recipe for a silly soup for one sad, but not totally tragic girl. Not having any idea how things would happen, what would happen, or if anything would change at all, I simply drove to the market and made one pot of soup.
Of course I ate that soup alone while I watched “Bridezillas”, but I made a commitment to do nothing more than exactly the same thing again the following week and it changed my life forever.
That next Sunday Bangs Batlin was my first guest. She is a small and forgiving friend with a taste for Champagne, which was my moment of complete premeditation-- she would be easy to get drunk enough to not notice the crummy soup if it didn’t turn out. As it happened, the soup did turn out, thanks to the largest amount of french butter my arteries have ever seen and to my Serious Chef Crush’s lovely recipe, and I felt not only confident that I could do it again the following week, but excited to do it agin the following week.
And then LOTS of friends showed up, each week after, with their own changing lives and thoughts; and birthdays were celebrated, and love was found and lost and found and lost again, and deals were brokered, and dishes were broken, and nocino exhausted and Monkey cats were played with. And my semi-sad life became something totally other than that.
It is just that simple. They came for the soup and stayed for the community, which happened completely by chance.
So, to make a long story, well, still long, I’m just trying to say that even though we wish our lives could change quickly in a dramatic fashion or in a dramatic moment-- that’s kind of why we like books and TV and movies and why we project our own stuff on to those characters, real and fictional-- it often doesn’t. But that doesn’t make the change that still happens any less real or less profound. It doesn’t make the results, though sometimes slow in revealing themselves, any less extraordinary; it just makes it a little harder to recognize sometimes.
How this relates to this week’s soupapolooza!, I’m not sure is entirely clear, but I did feel the need to look for some inspiration far, far outside of myself, since stewing on the couch is no longer an option. And since Sunday was actually the day before the hottest day in recorded history in Los Angeles. And because no one should have been eating a hot soup that day, but my ego (and my general distaste for cold soups) kept us all from being cool and collected. And because the soup was exotic and somewhat dramatic, kind of like a little trip to the Middle East, minus the whole bullet, fighting and religious dissonance stuff.
This week I made a red lentil soup with an aleppo and mint butter, a tabouleh with avocado and feta, a starter of romesco and burrata on crostini and Legal Eagle (thank you so, so much for your skillz and $1000 per billable hour time) made an exquisite five spice ice cream with pistachio biscotti. Tay-stee.
Saveur, Issue #120
This soup is finished with a flourish of mint-and-chile-infused butter.
5 tbsp. unsalted butter
3⁄4 tsp. cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. tomato paste
3 medium tomatoes, halved and grated, skins discarded
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup dried split red lentils (also called masoor dal), rinsed and drained
1⁄3 cup coarse bulgur
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp. dried mint leaves, crumbled with your fingers
1⁄2 tsp. dried ground aleppo pepper or paprika
Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add cumin, garlic, and onions and cook, stirring, until onions are soft, about 8 minutes. Increase heat to high, add tomato paste, and cook, stirring frequently, until color darkens, about 3 minutes. Add grated tomatoes and cook until mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes more. Add broth, lentils, bulgur, and 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until lentils are tender and soup has thickened, about 45 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper; remove pan from heat, set aside, and cover.
Meanwhile, melt remaining butter in a 1-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Remove pan from heat and stir in the mint and aleppo pepper. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with chile–mint butter.
Don’t let the dried aleppo scare you off, by the way-- it’s a Syrian chile that is not too hot but still smoky and delicious. It’s kind of like paprika, and you can totally use the paprika as a substitute if you need to, though if you plan in advance you can order it from Spice Station Silverlake, aka: the happiest place in hipsterville. The recipe also called for dried mint crumbles, but I ended up making a second batch of the butter with fresh mint instead, which I think was just a little crisper. It was a simple, quick and hearty recipe, though you might want to save it for a day that is cooler than 104 degrees. Seriously.
Pray, sort of.
Ladle, every Sunday.