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scuffed flats

ben with soup

My life is not always polished or pretty. It is, in fact, quite often the opposite. Like my black flats from last season, much of it is more scuffed up than I’d like to admit. My career is not flashy; most of it occurs behind a computer screen in a rather inconsequential building in a suburb of my city. Some days, I can’t even offer a quaint Instagram photo of my life because the dang trees obstruct what might otherwise be a lovely image of the skyline at night and not even a super-cool filter can make my dinner look presentable.

I don’t know about you, but I do this very unfortunate thing where I take every perfect or beautiful or appealing image or experience reflected in my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, RSS, etc. feeds and put them all together into a composite of everything I find desirable, with all of the imperfections fuzzed out, and I proceed to compare myself to that. And, of course, I always fall short. But this really awesome life? It is merely a collage of pretty things. No one is actually living it.

My recent thinking on this was prompted by recognition of my ongoing desire for perfection (which, for some reason, I thought would cease when I graduated from college…ha, ha) and habits of unconscious comparison. It has been informed, too, by the wise insights of others that have popped up across the internet lately. I think we’re all beginning to understand the newest manifestation of an old human habit, adapted to the latest technologies.

In light of all of this, I want you to know that I am trying very hard to present to you, dear reader, and to the Vast World of the Internet, the person that I am, with photographs that reflect the food I eat and the table I set, and with stories that accurately portray my reality. I don’t want to contribute to the visions of perfection already clouding your mind, entering by way of artfully curated Pinterest boards full of images of home décor and trendy clothes and more DIY projects than one person could ever complete, paired with the flood of Instagram photos by your freelancing friends who post images of the vintage bottles at the quirky hipster coffee shops where they’re working with their headphones in while you type away in a dated office space or sit at your laptop looking for jobs or hold your sick child in your lap late at night. You’ve likely seen enough lists of your friends’ professional achievements on LinkedIn and details of exciting trips by folks with money to travel popping up in your Facebook feed that you’ve been convinced that these are trustworthy measuring sticks for your own life. And there is enough pretty food on weathered tables lined by perfectly mismatched napkins spread across a million food blogs to feed us a hundred times over.

I need to remind myself of the truth, and it’s here for you, too: whatever our lives look like, however imperfect and “off the mark” they might seem, they really are full of goodness and beauty and meaning and potential. I cannot allow myself to deny the parts of my life that aren’t quite as I would like them to be, because if I do, I may be waiting forever for a perfect life that will never come. I am here: in this city, this job, this apartment, this community, this life. And all of that is, at the end of the day, pretty great.

As for what happens on this blog, I will strive for excellence and beauty, yes, but I don’t want to simply contribute to the noise. I want to communicate things that are true and to extend grace to myself and to you, dear reader, for all of our imperfection and humanness.

Because however scuffed up we and our lives may be, they are beautiful nonetheless.

To that end, I offer you an incredible soup, of which I was only able to snap these very sub-par photographs. I tried, and I was utterly unsuccessful. Click over to Heidi’s blog to see her lovely photos; I don’t know how she did it. But today, in the spirit of honesty and imperfection, I am giving you exactly what I have.

bean noodle soup

Persian Noodle Soup

Adapted from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

dash red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 1/2 cups vegetable stock or broth

100 g brown lentils or yellow split peas (I prefer the former)

1 1/2 cups (about 1 can) cooked chickpeas, drained if canned

1 1/2 cups (about 1 can) cooked white beans (like cannellini or Great Northern), drained if canned

fine grain sea salt

100 g egg noodles, fresh or dried

100 g spinach, chopped

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped, or small handful dried

2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped, or small handful dried

juice of one lime

For the toppings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 large onion, thinly sliced into half moons

50 g walnuts

greek yogurt or sour cream

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, a few minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and other spices and cook for about a minute more. Stir in the broth or stock. Bring to a boil, and then add the lentils. Simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender.

While the lentils simmer, prepare the toppings. Heat the olive oil, butter and a few pinches of salt in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until golden and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Set aside. Toast the walnuts in a dry pan over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Let cool, chop coarsely and set aside.

When the lentils are tender, add the cooked beans to the pot. Once they are heated through, season with salt to taste.

Just before you are ready to eat, add the noodles to the simmering soup and cook until al dente. Stir in the spinach, cilantro and dill. Add a big squeeze of lime to the pot, and adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve topped with caramelized onions, yogurt or sour cream, a sprinkling of walnuts and more lime, salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: 4-6 servings

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