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The Safety of Soup

(by Valerie Monroe)

Last night I shared a bowl of lentil soup I’d made at home with my 92-year-old mom in her apartment in New Jersey, where she lives, still independent and sharp as a tack. It was a sweet moment over a comfort food that meant more to me as a child than it does now, but perhaps more to Mom now than when I was young. She pronounced it delicious, and I agreed: It was her recipe, a thick, rich peasant soup that takes about five minutes to prepare and about an hour and a half to cook.

I have vivid memories of walking home from junior high on a freezing winter night, seeing the warm yellow lights in the windows of our suburban house at the end of the road. The moment I opened the front door, I was greeted by the nutty aroma of the soup and the garlic bread in the oven, the anticipation of our happy dinner table, and a feeling of safety for which, even then, I already felt nostalgia.

Last night Mom confided that she never brought food to her own mother. (“Why would I?” she said, laughing at the idea that she might feed a woman who spent her life cooking.) We talked about my grandparents, and we talked, a little, about death, about the death Mom would prefer. Some feeling of safety and comfort around the soup that we shared made it okay to discuss a scary, inevitable thing. But as we spooned the last drops from our bowls, she said, “I'm not ready just yet.”

“Good, Mom,” I said. “That's good.”

My mother died about a year and a half ago. I'm not sure she was ready. I know I wasn't.


Valerie Monroe was the beauty director of O the Oprah Magazine. She is the creator of How Not to F*ck Up Your Face.

Lentil Soup

1 medium onion 6 stalks celery 1 peeled parsnip bag of mini carrots 2 T. chopped fresh dill 16 oz. bag green lentils salt and pepper to taste

1 qt. chicken stock

Coarsely cut onion, celery, parsnip, and carrots. Put in a large pot with dill, lentils, salt, and pepper.

Add chicken stock and additional water to cover all ingredients.

Bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour and a half.


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