I have really bad luck with soup.
Well, let me rephrase that: I have really bad luck with lentil soup. Seriously, I am soup-challenged. Whether I’m attempting split pea or lima bean, it seems I can never get it to just the right consistency, the right flavor or the right temperature. I always forget how long to soak the lentils. I always forget how much water to add. And somehow, no matter how obsessively I’m watching it, the soup always seems to somehow cook fine on top but be completely black and burned on the bottom.
Cooking lentils is really a time-consuming thing. They require a lot of soaking and sitting and simmering. You let them soak overnight, then turn the burner on low and let them sit. Or you can do a “quick soak” in which you bring them to a boil, turn off the burner, then let them sit for only about 1-2 hours. Then you add a ham hock — translation: a pig’s foot or other appendage — and let them simmer with that piece of porky friend for a while. Then you add veggies and let ‘em simmer some more.
All in all, the process takes around 4-6 hours, and I really have no idea as to why I like to put myself through a day of torture when I already know the end result: a teary call to the husband to pick up Café Rio.
Nevertheless, I love soup and continue to try and improve my efforts by attempting — and failing — to make a decent lentil stew at least once every six months. I fear for the end of the world and our large lentil supply.
I’d like to share what happened during my last attempt.
We were living in our tiny three-bedroom condo at the time — approximately six months ago — and I was, right on schedule, feeling the need for split peas. I went to the grocery store, got the necessary ingredients and woke up early the next morning to begin the maddening process.
After the high-maintenance soak and ham hock addition, I turned the burner to “low” to let them simmer for a few hours while I ran some errands.
I got home much later than I had anticipated, and was just sure the peas were, as usual, going to be burned on the bottom. But before I got in the house, I tried my key in the doorknob, but for some reason it didn’t budge. The lock was stuck. I tried again with the same result. No luck.
Panicked and angry, I called my husband and found out he’d be home in 30 minutes, exactly the same amount of time it would take a locksmith to come. I looked at my two kids crying and cold at my feet and said a prayer that sounded something like this: “Why aren’t you helping me?!”
Two minutes later my key somehow miraculously turned the lock and we burst inside. I ran over to the stove to assess the damage.
But to my surprise, the soup wasn’t burned. It wasn’t even cooked. The peas were still hard. The nasty ham hock was sitting there in its bloody, pink bath of lukewarm water.
It was then I noticed that I was a little warm. I looked down and saw that I standing next to a very hot burner that did not have a pot of peas and pig on it.
In my hurry to get out the door and back home in time, I switched on the wrong burner and had been heating nothing more than my house for hours.
At that moment, I thought I heard in my head these words: “I was helping you. I was busy protecting your house from being burned to the ground. Also, this is your sign to never make lentil soup again.”
I suddenly recognized the huge blessing it was that I didn’t leave anything on or near the stove where that burner was turned on. It could have been much worse than it was.
Last week, author Jason Wright wrote an article on his website about “almost” blessings and disasters called "Man discovers razor blade in BBQ sandwich.”
There are so many things in my life that almost didn’t happen. I almost didn’t make "American Idol," but was called back for the wildcard show. My whole life changed because of that. I almost signed a pop-record deal out in Los Angeles instead of flying to Nashville. I almost didn’t perform at Stadium of Fire, but did so at my mom’s convincing and met my husband there that night. And I was very close to choosing a career over marriage, and fame over family.
Things like almost swallowing a razor blade and almost burning the house down — OK, mine may be a little exaggerated — are great life lessons on “almost” blessings.
I am grateful for all the times things did and did not work out exactly how I thought they should have. In fact, most times things don’t work out how I had originally planned.
That is what’s so hard and wonderful about life. It keeps surprising you. But something I’m learning is that almost really does count.
And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be surprised to discover I can make a killer lentil soup after all.
One final note: In an attempt to make that day come a little sooner, I put a pot of lima beans on the stove to begin a “quick soak” as I wrote this article. I forgot all about them and let them boil and boil away.
I sure do love a Café Rio salad.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.