Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Fountain of Youth: French Lentil Soup


I'm 46 years old and happy to be 46.  When I was 35, I was happy to be 35.  When I was 27, well, it's obvious, right?

I've never wished to be younger.  I've never wished to go back in time (even with the undeniably adorable Michael J. Fox).  When asked "the question," I've never been tempted to trim a few years off my age.  (Which is not to say that there wasn't a time when I was tempted to add a few years.  That, however, was about 30 years ago, so I'll plead youth, ignorance and invoke the statute of limitations.)

True, not many people would want to re-visit their middle school years, but I never pined for high school days, either.  I couldn't have scooted across that municipal auditorium graduation stage any faster if I'd had jet propulsion.

College was great fun (and maybe even better than that), but I didn't want to extend the experience.  I was on the four-years-or-bust program. Part of it was financial, of course, but given my tendency to procrastinate, I honestly don't think I could've survived a fifth year of all-nighters.  Or kegging.  Or all-night-kegging.

True, now that I'm "single" again, I wouldn't mind looking younger.  My son asks whether he gave me these wrinkles, but the truth is, they're the hard-earned result of spending the better part of my youth dipped in baby oil and sprawled on a towel at Folly Beach, South Carolina.  (Ironic name for a beach, don't you think?)

Plenty of corrective procedures are available, but wands, not scalpels, would be my instruments of choice.  So unless my plastic surgeon is one Harry Potter, MD, it's not going to happen.  Even worse than surgery would be the recovery.  Why would I want to spend a couple of weeks looking like the post-Chris-Brown Rihanna, when the ultimate result still wouldn't be Rihanna?

I've got to admit that the newly available prescription gel Latisse that grows thicker, longer lashes holds huge appeal.  Apparently, it's both easy and safe.  You just apply the gel to your lashline, and voila -- lusher lashes!  Well, not exactly "voila."  And not exactly affordable.  "Voila" requires two to four months of daily use and $240-$480.

Then, you're stuck.  Those plush, luxurious lashes only stay as long as you use the product.  Leave the Latisse, and you're back to counting those individual hair folicles.  Even I can do that math.  A thicket of lashes for one year would require the financial resources of Harry's account at Gringotts.  I don't know exactly how to convert sickles and knuts (wizarding money), but let's just say that $1,400 buys a lot of Maybelline.

So it looks as if I'm going to have to turn to food for a more youthful appearance.  I took the "Real Age" quiz online (RealAge ), and surprise, surprise, my "real" age is within a year of my, you guessed it, real age.

Naturally, the kind folks at RealAge have come up with a list of things I can do to be more youthful  -- including going back in time and choosing sunscreen instead of baby oil, and avoiding the emotional stress of divorce -- but it's too late for that.  The solution now is working more fiber and vegetables into my diet.  Once again, soup comes to the rescue.

French Lentil and Spinach Soup

This is a very flavorful soup.  Don't skimp on the vinegar -- it really brightens the taste.

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, diced
2 carrots, cleaned and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. dried French green lentils, washed and picked over
8 cups of chicken broth (canned is fine)
1 ham hock

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
water

4-6 shakes of hot sauce
1 bag fresh spinach, chopped or 1 (10 oz) package frozen chopped spinach
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

salsa (for garnish)
sour cream (for garnish)

In a very large saucepan or large soup pot, heat olive oil.  Saute onions until soft, about 5 minutes.  Stir in carrots and celery, saute another 3-4 minutes.  Stir in garlic, saute an additional minute.  Pour in chicken stock and lentils.  Bury ham hock in lentils.  In a small piece of cheesecloth (or better still, a teaball), place herbs and secure with string.  Bury this packet under the lentils.  Stir in salt, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat, simmering 1 1/2 - 2 hours, or until lentils are firm, but tender.  While simmering, add water to maintain the consistency you like.  (I like mine "brothy," but you may prefer yours thicker.)  When lentils are done, stir in vinegar and hot sauce.  Remove herbs and ham hock, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Finally, add spinach (fresh or frozen), and stir until spinach is heated through.  Serve hot, garnished with salsa or sour cream or both.

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