Mental Soup


I was waiting for some news.

News that would change the contours of my life. News of something I wanted and dreaded so much it felt like my heart would break out of its skin. Like I would go mental!

The Buddhists would say, return to the breath. But I decided to return to soup. I pulled out a recipe I’d been meaning to try and I went at it with fevered concentration. The radio was on: a civil rights activist on refugee detention camps in the U.S.; the tinny, defensive voice of an embedded reporter in Afghanistan; something about sheep. I just kept making soup. Flavours building upon one another: onion; cinnamon; basil. A swirl of tomato, the slow melt of lentils.


The call came a few days later.I was in the photocopy room at the university where I’ve worked as contract faculty for the last two years. (see this article by Wayne Arthurson on exploitative working conditions in universities). I was making copies of an article in the April 2 issue of McLean’s Magazine. It was titled, “It Hurts When You Call Me Professor”. I picked up the phone.

I got the job.

I went into my office, closed the door. I let out a huge gasp. I danced around the room. I called my friend Terri: we shrieked at each other over the phone. She’s known me for fifteen years, the entire span of my sessional teaching career. She knows what this means. For the first time in all my years of academic labour, I will be fully renumerated for my work. I’ll be supported in my research. I’ll be able to provide students with a better learning experience. My job won’t stop and start every four months. I’ll have benefits. I’ll have colleagues. I won’t have to go on unemployment insurance in the summer.

I went back into the photocopy room and kept making copies of that article, to hand to friends, colleagues, to pin to my door. I don’t want to forget. I will never forget.

That evening, I called my mother and surprised her with the news. Her voice softened into relief. She kept repeating: “I’m so glad”. She sounded like someone whose daughter had finally made it safely to shore, after so many years navigating the treacherous, wide open seas.

This weekend, I will gather with friends who are as happy, relieved, and proud as I am. We’ll drink, embrace, be silly, and dance.

Yesterday, I was with The Guitar Player at Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market. The dazzling displays of kale, mesclun greens, blood oranges, wood-oven-baked bread, organic perogies, wild mushrooms, and sweet potatoes mingled with the woodsy, earthy smells of spring: it made her hungry. I remembered I had some lentil soup in the fridge. My tongue slipped, in unconscious acknowledgement of the monumental events of the past few days.

“C’mon over and have some mental soup,” I said.

Hearty Lentil Soup

This recipe is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, where it was repeatedly tested and refined. In this (semi-vegetarian) version of a soup you may have made many times before, the lentils don’t get mushy because of the way in which the lentils are ‘sweated’ when they go into the acidic tomato base. To brighten the flavour, I impulsively added a handful of finely chopped seeded kumquats I had on hand – you could also throw in a 1/4 cup chopped orange segments – if you do the kumquat thing, omit the lemon juice at the end. This is the best lentil soup I’ve ever made.

1 large onion, chopped fine
2 medium carrots, chopped fine
3 medium garlic cloves, smashed & chopped
1 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn cinnamon
1 tspn ground coriander
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil or thyme
1 cup lentils (black, brown or green), rinsed
1 tspn salt, pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
41/2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
11/2 cups water
11/2 tspns lemon juice
3 tblspns minced fresh parsley leaves

Saute onion and carrots in lg stockpot until soft. Add garlic and spices; cook, stirring contantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, bay leaf,, cook until simmering. Stir in lentils, salt and pepper to taste; cover and simmer for about ten minutes. Uncover, increase heat to high, add wine and bring to simmer. Add chicken broth and water; bring to boil, cover partially and reduce heat to low. Simmer until lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the type of lentil you are using. With a hand-held blender, puree some of the soup. Stir in lemon juice and parsley and heat until hot, about 5 minutes.


  1. fwap,fwap, fwap goes the happy hound’s tail…

    With the deep new breaths…melting away at the old gnawing worried knots…AND its Spring…AND there’s a pot on the stove…AND there’s parties…AND there is a well-earned future out of ALL that hard work and perseverence. May I MAJORLY Congratulate you on your new job!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.