Two weeks ago, I found myself in an audience of thousands, waiting for Olympic Champion Amy Van Dyken to take the stage. I could barely see her from my 80-something-rows-back chair when she did because she was seated in hers, talking competitive swimming and filling the room with laughter as she joked about being at optimal eye-level for all squat butts. She was telling her story. The story of how a six-time Olympic gold medalist continued to thrive – mentally, emotionally, physically – after an accident left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Tears streaked my cheeks as she spoke and I quietly wiped them away with the back of my hand, hoping the uber fit strangers surrounding me hadn’t noticed. I tried to compose myself because I, somehow, against all odds, was also speaking that day at the fitness conference, as part of Idea World’s Blog Fest. I was giving a talk on food photography and despite my pre-talk jitters it only took a few minutes on the stage for me to settle into a room full of women with perfectly-toned, Lululemon-clad squat butts. (I squat daily, too, but tend to offset it with the occasional pizza so I’m not at quite the same level as most of them.)
But the day after the presentation, despite it having gone as well as I could’ve hoped, I felt just a little bit blue. I couldn’t get Amy’s story out of my head. I love the food I cook and the body that contains me but there was a piece of me that wished I inspired healthier living in the way that she does. I scrolled through the Instagram feeds of the group of fitness bloggers I’d spoken to and contrasted them with my own Instagram feed. I wondered why those kinds of wholesome meals were so absent from my digital presence, despite their relatively frequent appearance in my real day-to-day life. I wondered why, when one woman asked me after my talk, “How would you style a smoothie?” I had to respond with “I don’t know, I never have,” even though I drink a smoothie almost every day for breakfast. It occurred to me that the blueness was coming from inconsistency. I seemed to offer up the most indulgent foods I eat – the donuts and pizzas and ice cream – on the digital spaces I occupy while tucking the green smoothies, the vibrant salads, and the hours upon hours of burpees and pull-ups and downward dogs safely out of sight.
Perhaps, I thought for a minute, it’s just that I’m more inspired by donuts than I am by smoothies. Inspiration, I said, makes me do it. You can’t argue with the elusiveness of creative inspiration, you know, she’ll win every time.
But deep down I knew this wasn’t true. Because the green smoothie I made almost every day last week, packed with pineapple and spinach and avocado and lime zest and a bunch of cilantro from my herb garden, had filled me with gratitude. And Friday’s grilled flank steak with just a hit of sea salt and bright green salsa verde was a thing of pure simple beauty. Inspiration resides there, too.
I’m still not sure I can answer the question fully. I guess for now, all I can say is that going forward I’m committed to cultivating more balance in what I share with all of you. There will be more salads, more smoothies, more slow carbs, more celebration of simplicity to reflect the meals I’m so often eating behind the screen, beginning with this warm lentil salad with blistered green beans.
One of the many reasons I enjoy adding lentils to salads and soups is because they burn slower than the breads and pastas of the world but they’re substantial enough to fill you up after a morning full of working on your squat butt. Lentils, like most legumes, can also be incredibly flavorful if prepared with just a little extra TLC. I like to do mine in a similar fashion to how I work with beans—I simmer them in aromatics like shallots, garlic, and bay leaves—to infuse them with flavor as they cook. Here, I serve them at room temperature with a heap of blistered green beans and a poached egg (okay, maybe not the perfect picture of health but I do like a beautiful poached egg every now and again), along with a dollop of briny tonnato—a Piedmontese sauce made of oil-packed tuna and anchovies—for an Italian-leaning take on a hearty summer salad.
I’m not sure I could ever really commit to a life devoid of pizza and icy pints of Portland-brewed beer, or that I’d want to. I’m not crazy, okay? But I guess what I took away the most from last week’s conference is that there’s plenty of room here to share and celebrate health and fitness, too—with lentil salads that are bright and briny and let’s just settle on calling it healthy-(ish.)
This post was sponsored by Canadian Lentils. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thanks to you, lovely readers, for supporting the brands and ingredients that keeps C+M thriving.
- 1 cup of dried green lentils
- 1 fresh bay leaf or 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 shallot, cut in half
- 1 clove of garlic, smashed
- 2 cups of water
- 1 pinch of salt
- ½ cup of mayonnaise
- 1 6-ounce jar of oil-packed tuna
- 4 anchovy fillets, drained
- 1 teaspoon of fresh capers
- ½ lemon, juiced and partially zested
- For the toppings and assembly:
- 4 tablespoons of canola oil, divided into 2 equal parts
- 2 tablespoons of capers
- 4 cups of haricoverts or green beans, sliced diagonally into 1-inch pieces, about 16 ounces
- 1 tablespoon of fresh minced chives, for garnish
- 4 poached or fried eggs, for topping (optional)
- Rinse lentils with cool water and drain. Add lentils, bay leaf, shallot, garlic clove, water, and salt to a large saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 25 minutes, or until just tender. For this recipe, especially, you do not want your lentils overcooked. Remove bay leaf, garlic, and shallot pieces before serving.
- In a food processor, combine the mayonnaise, tuna and its oil, anchovies, capers, and lemon juice and zest. Puree until well combined, adding 1-2 tablespoons of water if necessary to thin to desired consistency. If you have some leftover, you can reserve in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to one week.
- Drain the capers from their liquid and pat dry using paper towels. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the capers and cook, moving them slightly with a wooden spoon for even cooking, until golden and crisp on the outside, about 2 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and set aside while you prepare the green beans.
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil over high heat. Once sizzling, add green beans and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until slightly blistered. To avoid overcooking the green beans, you’ll want to do this at a high heat and work quickly. Remove from heat and set on a paper towel.
- Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of tonnato into each bowl and top with lentils, green beans, fried capers, and, if using, eggs. Garnish with chives and serve warm or room temperature.