Sometimes we over-think things :: {lentil salad}

A one-minute sketch of a fleeting moment.

Some people go to spas to have their bodies wrapped in seaweed.  I went into the backyard, put my toddler in a tub of water and propped my feet up on the side of it.  Now, the Sometimes Goal of mothering is to relax with a cup of tea and know that you won't have to spring into action, leaving your tea to get cold.  Usually, a tub of water does the trick, but to be doubly sure that Heidi was as enraptured with this activity as always, I needed to show her that there were as yet undiscovered properties of water.  What we needed to learn about water today (aside from the well-known fact that water makes an excellent cup of hot tea) was that things can float on it.  I scattered a handful of sage leaves from the nearby bush into the water.  The silver-green boats bobbed across the surface.  She plucked one from the surface with careful pudgy fingers and draped it across my foot.  One by one, the leaves made their way from the water to my legs and then back again.  I watched her play with sage in water until the slice of light that was bathing us began to shrink and it was time to fix dinner.

Sometimes we over-think things.  Watching our childrens' rapidly expanding minds make sense of the world around them is dizzying and wondrous and gives us the daunting task of guiding, nurturing, and stimulating.  We spend too much time worrying that we're stunting the growing brains in our charge, and forget that everything we need is right around us.  All we need to do remember to look at everything with fresh eyes like they do; float a leaf in water, put a dried bean in an empty salt shaker, put a tea cozy on your head, have your legs wrapped in sage leaves.

Lentil Salad, lots of ways
Turns out, a bag of dried lentils makes a LOT of lentils.  If you made too many, you can freeze them and have them ready to throw into soup later.  Not only are lentils cheap and healthy, but they're one of the most "green" foods you can eat -- it doesn't cost the environment much to grow them.  The trick for keeping blandness at bay is a delicious dressing and getting different textures into the mix.  
Boil half a bag of brown lentils according to the package directions (15-20 minutes, usually).  When they're as tender as you like, drain them, and dress them with one of the following while they're still warm.  They'll absorb the flavors best this way.  Each of the following will dress about a third of your batch of lentils.
French-style: In an empty jam jar, shake together a small spoon of Dijon mustard, a crushed garlic clove, a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, 5 spoons of olive oil, 2 spoons of red wine vinegar, and a splash of maple syrup. Dress the lentils with this, and a diced carrot, 2 diced radishes, 2 or 3 sliced scallions, a big handful of chopped parsley, and a twig or two of thyme leaves.  You can eat this as is, or serve it on a bed of greens with some toasted walnuts and crumbled goat's cheese on top.
 North African-style: In an empty jam jar, shake together a big spoonful of yogurt, 2 small spoons of lemon juice, 2 small spoons of olive oil, a small pinch each of cinnamon and ginger, two big pinches each of coriander and cumin, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a crushed garlic clove, salt, and pepper.  Dress the lentils with this, and any of the following: diced carrot, half a diced zucchini or cucumber, some chopped roasted red pepper (or not roasted), a dozen or so halved cherry tomatoes, finely chopped red onion, and a handful of chopped mint.   You could easily mix in some cooked grains here, too, like cous cous or quinoa. 
 Sweet and Sour: In an empty jam jar, shake together a small spoon of Dijon mustard, a splash of apple juice, a large glob of honey, 2 spoons of apple cider vinegar, 5 spoons of olive oil, a small pinch of allspice, salt, and pepper.  Dress the lentils with this, and toss with some diced apple, sauteed sweet potato chunks, toasted walnuts, crumbled goat's cheese, and crumbled bacon.  (Or use the rendered bacon drippings in place of your olive oil.).  I'd serve this warm, on a bed of spinach.