I saw a girl outside my church this morning showing off her engagement ring to her friends. She beamed as she held out her hand -- her cheeks rosy with joy and pride as her friends "oohed" and "aahed" and made jokes about how she must have trouble holding her ring finger up. She giggled coquettishly -- she was already playing the role of the blushing bride.
I stole a peak of the ring -- a discreet diamond nestled atop a delicate silver band -- as I walked by. It stood out in the dull grey air of the morning; stood out in the uneventful course of my morning spent reading the paper while eating oatmeal and sipping tea. I wondered if her fiance proposed on New Year's Eve amidst a slur of barely intelligible ramblings about not wanting to start another year without her as his wife. I wondered if she'd cried and screamed "Yes!" over and over again like the heroines always seem to do in the movies -- like the poor bloke might be hard of hearing or slow of comprehending.
I grimaced at the thought of it all. Hardly the reaction one would expect from someone who has spent the better part of her week watching Jerry Maguire, Love Actually, About a Boy, and WALL-E -- all films that are built upon sentimentality and romanticism. All films that would seem to suggest that I'm a hopeless romantic prone to swooning and spewing tears at the mere mention of love and happily ever afters and a newly acquired diamond ring.
But my heart was hardened by the sight this morning. My heart has been a bit hardened about everything grandiose and symbolic this weekend.
I'm not fond of New Year's -- the eve or the day. I haven't enjoyed the holiday since the days when it meant staying up past my bedtime, ordering pizza and drinking Martinelli's sparkling cider (called "children's wine" in our household). My older brothers and I would decorate the house with streamers and signs while my parents went out to dinner, and then we'd surprise them with some sort of moronic musical performance we had choreographed to the beat of my brother's keyboard. It usually involved me wearing my Hawaiian grass skirt and a hot pink spin art t-shirt. (A winning combination in the mind of a seven-year-old.)
In recent years, I've begun a new ritual -- refusing to even acknowledge the impending new year by going to bed before midnight.
"It's just another night," I tell myself and the friends that express concern that I'm going to be ringing in the new year with decaffeinated tea and no company.
But the truth is that no matter how hard I tell myself it's not a big deal, that it is just another day, I can't help but feel differently at the start of a new year. It's almost impossible not to get overly reflective and self-critical about the past year. The very nature of the holiday is about making a fresh start -- resolving to be better, do better and to eat nothing but vegetables forever and ever more. Unless there is some sort of joyous event to ring in the new year with -- a new job, a new engagement, a new nose -- the holiday is inherently depressing. It's a reminder of one's shortcomings rather than of one's accomplishments.
I don't want to dwell on what I don't have -- or the three extra pounds that I do. It turns me into a person who sneers at diamond rings and swears off dessert like self-deprivation will suddenly make my life picture perfect.
So, instead, I'm going to focus on the things that made me happy this weekend. I chased my nearly 2-year-old niece around my parents' house in Orange County as she shrieked, "Run, Nana, run!" I spent a rainy afternoon drinking homemade hot cocoa and eating a peanut butter sandwich cookie without berating myself for the indulgence. (I did, however, berate myself for the stomachache I acquired later.) And, on New Year's Eve, while others were guzzling champagne and gazing into each others' eyes, making promises about the future, I made this recipe for curried lentils with sweet potatoes.
It was the perfect way to forget about the new year -- and the perfect way to relish the current moment and my current self, exactly as I am.
Curried Lentils with Sweet Potatoes
Lightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Adaptations: I reduced the amount of olive oil (as I always tend to do) and increased the proportions of onion, garlic, spices, and sweet potato. I also substituted kale for the chard, slivered almonds for Tamari almonds, and added golden raisins to the mix for an extra burst of sweet flavor. Finally, I added the sweet potatoes after the lentils had cooked for a bit, as noted in the recipe instructions below.
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/3 medium yellow onion, chopped (approximately 1/3 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper (seeds removed)
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 cup vegetable broth (I use 1 1/2 teaspoons Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base mixed with 1 1/2 cups water)
1/4 cup green lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones (I'm not sure what qualifies a lentil as a "stone," but I tend to just discard any
that look smallish or blemished)
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (approximately 1 heaping cup)
1 heaping cup chopped kale, center ribs removed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon slivered almonds, toasted
1 tablespoon golden raisins
1 green onion/scallion, sliced (for garnish)
1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
1 teaspoon lime juice
Salt, pepper to taste
Heat a medium-sized pot or saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the olive oil and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onion, slightly reduce the heat, and then saute until translucent, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, garam masala, curry powder and jalapeno. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add the vegetable broth, lentils and bay leaf. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and simmer together for approximately 10 minutes before adding the sweet potatoes (I find the lentils take longer to cook than the potatoes so wait to add them). Continue simmering for additional 15 minutes, adding liquid as needed, before stirring in the kale. Season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until lentils are tender and kale has fully incorporated into the "stew" and has a braised-like appearance. This will take another 15 minutes, for a total cooking time of approximately 40 minutes.
Just before serving, stir in cilantro, lime zest, lime juice, and golden raisins. Serve immediately, topped with green onion and toasted almonds.