WOW, can't believe i haven't posted since December 2nd!  of course i have still been cooking nutrient dense dinners during my blog hiatus, but just haven't been as gung ho as i typically am over the summer months.  to be completely honest, i get a lot of inspiration from the Athens Farmers' Market, and that ended at the beginning of December.  also, like everybody else, the holidays were pretty busy, and i tried my best to relax and enjoy them with friends and fam!  I got some great kitchen tools for Christmas...a garlic press, nice cutting boards (my old ones were, well, OLD!), a corn kernel remover, which will be VERY handy when corn comes into season, a big dutch oven, a mandolin, which i haven't quite figured out how to use yet, a vacuum sealer, a heavy duty vegetable peeler, and Hugh Acheson's new cookbook, A New Turn in the South, which i have already made some great meals from, even if i don't follow the recipe exactly, it is a great inspiration!  thanks Hugh and JESS!

Last January, Ryan and I, as well as my brother and his wife, went almost-vegan.  this January, ryan and i have been trying to go gluten-free.  ryan is a little more into it than me.  i actually do not feel that gluten has any effect on me.  ryan seems to think that getting rid of gluten has helped his gut in terms of bloating and gas.  this really wasn't much of a change for us, because we don't eat many processed products, we already eat brown rice pasta instead of wheat pasta, and ryan has been enjoying gluten-free cereals, like Envirokidz, for quite a while!  the biggest changes for us...switching from wheat to corn tortillas, no bread when we go out to dinner, and making sure we get gluten-free oats.  HOWEVER, we can't be sure we are completely gluten-free.  if you truly must go gluten-free due to celiac disease, it is very hard to go out to eat and you must read every ingredient label....we have not been that strict!   and, i cheated yesterday at ryan's parents' house and ate chicken casserole with breadcrumbs and pretzels chips with hummus.  it was worth it.  ryan stayed the course!  go RY!  

other non-food related stuff that has been going on....i have been running a lot, most of the time with my great training partner, Kevin Smith.  we hope to do the Taste 10k on February 18th and the Publix Georgia half marathon on March 18th.  i have also been attending Bikram yoga classes at the new studio on Foundry street in athens.  it has been HOT and fun.  i get asked a lot about it and here is my opinion so far....it is a beginner class in terms of instruction only, otherwise, i would consider it at least an intermediate form of yoga.  the room is over 100 degrees and several of the poses/postures are very challenging.  the instruction is the same every time and there isn't much explanation of how to modify poses.  if you want to give it a try, understand that you do not need to do every posture every class and when the teacher says "pull hard, stretch further, go beyond, go to your furthest point, way back, fall back" or something similar, this does not mean that you need to go to that point!  listen to your own body.  take it easy the first several classes.  understand how you should feel in each posture. and do not attempt something the first few times if you aren't confident in your abilities, especially if you have never taken a yoga class before.  there have been some times when i simply sat down, because i did not feel like my body was up for that pose on that day! 

Now, on to a dinner that i pretty much despised as a kid, but love as an adult!  my mom made lentil soup a decent amount and always attempted to get me to eat it, but i really and truly think it is a dish that you need to learn to appreciate as you get older and older, and hopefully one day your taste buds will mature and you will love all the ingredients for their taste AND nutrient density! 

Loaded Lentil Soup
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, small dice
4-5 medium carrots, medium dice or cut in small disks
4-5 celery stalks, medium dice
1-2 leeks*, chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)
1 pound cooked lentils**
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 cups stock, i used a mixture of chicken and vegetable
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves***
1.5 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pepper

parmigiano reggiano rind**** (optional)

heat large soup-pot or dutch oven (enameled cast-iron pot) over medium heat.  add olive oil.  once hot, add onions, carrots, celery, and leeks in that order (cut one veggie at a time, drop it in pot and start cutting up next veggie). add 1/2 tsp salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, until veggies are slightly tender and have a little bit of color.  add garlic and cook another 4-5 minutes, stirring once or twice.  add wine, stir, and cook for 1 minute.  add lentils, cumin, cayenne, and stock and stir again.  bring to a boil.  reduce heat to medium low, add thyme, remaining salt, pepper, and parm rind, cover, and simmer for one hour.  top with freshly grated parm if you like.

*leeks grow in sandy soil, so make sure to clean them thoroughly by cutting off and discarding the tough green top ends, then slicing them in half lengthwise and rinsing carefully under running water, separating the layers to get all the grit out. 
**you can soak dry lentils for an hour and add them directly in without cooking OR you can buy already cooked ones like me.  i find them in the produce department at Trader Joe's, vacuum-sealed and ready to eat!
***strip the thyme leaves off of the stems by running your fingers down each stem in the opposite direction of growth, the leaves should come right off.
****get a small piece of GOOD parmigiano reggiano, you know it is good if there is a stamp stating it is real parm on the rind, like so....

cut the rind off, the hard end part, and put it in the soup.  this will give it great flavor!

after an hour of cooking, allow soup to cool a bit, remove the parm rind (or whatever's left of it) and enjoy!

season more with salt and pepper if needed!

for the next few weeks, i plan to post super simple recipes.  not many ingredients and/or not much instruction. 

PLUS, ryan has been experimenting with a homemade "bar" recipe and i hope to post that very soon.  ryan has been amazing lately about making food.  he has been making me his "paleo" pancakes (recipe is on the Deliciously Dense facebook page) in the morning and has been doing some awesome omelets at night!  thanks babe!