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Commit to Fit | Week 8

Author | Commit to Fit 2013 Winner, Judith Zissman

This week, blueberries appeared at the Castro Farmers Market. They were stunning and juicy, and since I know that a “serving” of blueberries is pretty substantial (3/4 cup), I bought a large bag to have on hand for snacking. My son is just starting to try solid foods, and I thought he might like a blueberry, so I crushed one a bit and offered it to him. As he rolled it around in his tiny mouth, his face lit up with unmistakable joy. He clearly had never tasted anything as delicious, and was eager for more.

Watching him heightened my own joy in eating the blueberries - it was no longer about making a good food choice to reach my health goals, but rather an opportunity for me to share this incredibly happy moment with my son.

We often hear the phrase “emotional eating” as a negative - people make poor food choices when they’re trying to deal with uncomfortable emotions like loneliness, boredom or fear - but the flip side is that food can fill us with wonderful emotions too, and eating in healthy ways should encourage all of that joy and celebration, not make us feel deprived or unable to enjoy food. Eating blueberries with my son this week was a great reminder for me.

I also had an opportunity come up this week to cook a meal for a stranger. As someone who started a family on my own, I’ve really benefitted from the supportive community of Single Mothers by Choice, and when a message came across the email list that there was a new single mother who was struggling, I offered to help.

Thinking about what I might cook to bring for her brought back the beautiful memories of the first few weeks of my son’s life, eight months ago. My friends showed up with amazing dishes: lasagnas and roast chickens, muffins and fruit for breakfasts, everything fresh and organic and made with love. Everyone who came by wanted to celebrate and nurture us, and they did so by feeding me when I was exhausted in the all-consuming fog of new motherhood.

In the end, though, I chose to make a dish my mother made for me in the week after my son was born. Because my iron was low, my mom wanted to make me iron-rich foods, meat and greens and other things designed to boost this crucial mineral. Red lentils are especially high in iron, and my mom made a simple soup that is a great option for new moms.

When you read about dieting and food issues, there’s so much complicated stuff that comes up, especially for women, about the tensions around food and love and mothers, but it was just so beautiful to have my mother nurture me with healthy food in this moment where I was becoming a mother myself. I wanted to share that by cooking that way for the new mom I met this week.a

The recipe below is for the most simple vegan and gluten-free version of the soup, which is great when you don’t know someone’s dietary restrictions or they’re trying to figure out what foods work for them as their body heals from the birth (or any other medical procedure). I’ve also suggested places you can make the soup more interesting for an everyday meal.

Note that the recipe is easily multiplied if you’d like to make enough for yourself and a friend, and that you can increase or decrease both ingredients and cook time here and have things turn out just fine.

Ingredients

1 cup red lentils

4 cups water (*you can use any broth you wish for more flavor here)

3 carrots, diced

1 shallot, diced

3 cups dark leafy greens of your choice (chard, spinach, kale, etc.), chopped roughly as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional mild enhancements:

1 tablespoon homemade bouillon (I use this in everything. It’s amazing.)

¼ teaspoon each of the following anti-inflammatory spices: cinnamon, cayenne, turmeric, ginger

1 bay leaf (remove after cooking)

Optional hearty enhancements for more of a full meal:

2 chicken sausages, sliced

hot sauce to taste

Directions

1. Bring water to a boil in a large stockpot.

2. Add lentils and cook for one minute, stirring well.

3. Reduce heat to a simmer, add additional vegetables (except greens) and spices.

4. Simmer for at least an hour, preferably two or three. The lentils will disintegrate and form a thick soup.

5. Add greens (and chicken sausages, if you’re including those) and simmer for another 20 minutes.

6. Enjoy!

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