28 August 2008

Mediterranean Vegetable Soup with Lentils

Puttering around in the kitchen listening to crickets and cicadas while I cut, chop, baste and stir is heavenly for me. This time of year brings me a deep satisfaction somehow, as the pace of life begins to quicken again. I have this sense of something about to happen.

It also saddens me, because another summer (so precious to us northerners!) is on the wane.

When I was a teenager, my mother and I often took walks together after dark this time of year. It was a chance for me to share my hopes for the school year ahead and my dreams for a time beyond school. We'd often choose a neighborhood to the northeast of Frenchtown, where the houses, built after 1915, were mostly shingled bungalows or 1920's-style cottages. Catching a glimpse of someone else's evening through an unshuttered window captured my imagination, and it is an image that has stayed with me for many years.

These days I sit on my side porch, or my newly-built (but yet unpainted) front porch and watch the street lights create pools of light in the evening. Occasionally, I will see a dog walker or jogger. My house is more than 110 years old now, and I often wonder about others who have sat on that porch watching night fall in years past. Did they feel the mix of contentment and sadness I feel this time of year?

Sunday was a day for sunshine and crickets, nightfall and porch sitting.

Our dinner of chicken, tomatoes and peppers was simple but comforting. The best part was the juice from the bottom of the roasting pan. I knew when I caught its aroma (and sneaked a spoonful) that I would be making soup Sunday night.

Easy Mediterranean Vegetable Soup with Lentils

  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 cup lentils
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, Italian style
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • dash freshly-ground pepper
  • dash fleur de sel


Place olive oil, butter and onion in skillet; brown slightly. Add chicken stock, water and lentils. Bring to a boil and lower heat, simmering for about 30 minutes. Add tomatoes and carrots. Cover and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, adding zucchini as carrots begin to soften. Simmer at least 20 minutes longer, adding salt and pepper.

I expect to get at least four meals out of this. My husband is not a vegetable soup fan, but even he admitted this smelled heavenly while simmering.

I used Lentils de Puy, purchased last year in Paris. Wonderful! I'll have to pick up another bag next month at Carrefour or Leclerc.

The soup lasted all week. I paired it with goat cheese and roasted pepper on crusty rolls.

07 August 2008

My Personal Wine History and a Visit to Sonoma County

About nine years ago, my husband suggested we create a wine tasting data base to record our adventures and our preferences. It seemed like a good idea, as many of my favorite magazines were starting to publish wine columns and our "want to try" list was getting longer and longer.

We never had the time - or never took the time - and we never purchased a wine program or did anything formal about it. But it was the start of something. An awareness perhaps. And we've had fun ever since.

My own adventures with wine started as a toddler. Yes. That's what I said. While the grownups enjoyed wine with their meals, I was given a wine glass filled with water and enough wine to add flavor - and pique my interest. I don't think it did any harm; in fact, it was probably useful. Early on, I saw wine as a meal accompaniment and not something to be consumed in large quantities in order to achieve an altered state.

But I've been here, too.

These days, my husband and I often drink a glass or two before and during dinner. We enjoy the complexity of wine, and we like to experiment with pairings and we talk about building a wine cave like the one my brother built. We've got the perfect place for it, but we've got a lot of other priorities, too.

We're not especially educated and we've not snobbish. In the last month or two, we've tasted Two Buck Chuck (now three bucks) as well as some pricier wines. As for bubbly, we like everything from the occasional supermarket offering to the bottle of Dom Perignon that is awaiting just the right celebratory event.

Recently at dinner we ordered a meritage blend from California's Central Coast that was layered and rich, with a plummy introduction and a cherry-vanilla finish. Next month, we'll enjoy the black wine of Cahors as we look out over our own (for two weeks, anyway) private vineyard.

I recently spend several days in Sonoma County, tasting, learning and observing. The variety before me was awesome, as they say, but in the true sense of the word. Thanks to A for her wine tour and to E, F and M for their companionship.

I'll be back, Sonoma...

What's your wine story?