of sharing friendship, books, and lentil soup: adventures with katrina kenison and me

BOOKENDS WE’RE DEFINITELY NOT, or at least not a matched set. And though studies say the odds on making friends after age 30 dwindle, even at 50-plus we didn’t let statistics get in the way. Author Katrina Kenison and I find there’s plenty of common fodder, like writing memoir, rural living, and making lentil soup (again, our recipes differ but that just means we can swap them, as we do writing help and more). With our third books both due from the same publisher just a week apart in January, she and I are about to take our show on the road. The story of that—oh, and Katrina’s lentil soup recipe:

Katrina and I have celebrated our similarities and differences since we met a couple of years ago at a book-industry trade show (read the whole story on her website). We both have corporate-publishing backgrounds, but then chose country, not city, as backdrops for our “second half” of life. Our differences aren’t really so different, we learned when reading the manuscripts last year to each other’s new books-to-be, “Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment,” and “The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life.”

Katrina has been nurturing a husband and two sons for 25 years, the same time I’ve been mothering a sometimes-unruly gaggle of plants. (Yes, the garden has proven to be as worthy and complicated a life partner as any human mate.) Her new book isn’t about gardening, like mine is; it’s about finding herself with an empty nest. But we both explore themes like impermanence, adaptability, and the “what’s next” question we all find ourselves facing over and again—in the seasons of a garden, or a human life.

Maybe owing to decades of cooking for her three hungry guys, Katrina is the kind of guest who always arrives with homemade food in tow: granola, for instance, or cookies, or on her latest of many visits to my place, lentil soup. You’re supposed to put a poached egg on top, but I didn’t, because as soon as I took a taste I just kept eating and never got around to cooking the egg.

“What’s the recipe?” I asked.

“It’s from La Tartine Gourmande’s website—or at least hers was my starting point,” she replied, “but what I made is pretty different.” Katrina (a vegetarian, like I am) had left out the chorizo, and used water and wine, not chicken broth as the base. She’d changed up the spices, too—oh, and instead of white lentils, she’d used French green ones. You know: an adaptation, or total, absolute, and utter improv.

Maybe that’s another common theme, Katrina went on to say:

“You start where you are, with what you have, and you improvise, in cooking and in life.”

Yes, that’s the right recipe. Definitely.

lentil soup, adapted by katrina


  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped finely, or one large shallot chopped
  • 1 leek, white part only, chopped finely
  • 2 celery branches, diced finely
  • 4 twigs of thyme, chopped finely
  • ½ teaspoon saffron
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 branches of parsley or cilantro, plus more to garnish
  • sea salt and pepper
  • large can of diced tomatoes with their juice
  • 2 tablespoons double concentrate tomato paste
  • 2 cups dry French green lentils
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cups peeled and diced ‘Butternut’ squash
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups white wine (or vegetable broth)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced


  • In large pot, heat oil, add thyme, cumin, turmeric, shallot, leek, garlic, celery, and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes, till veggies are softening.
  • Add tomatoes, tomato paste, cook one minute.
  • Add lentils, carrots, squash, cook one-two minutes.
  • Add water, wine, bay leaves, cilantro, saffron, season w. salt and pepper, cover and simmer till lentils are tender, about 25 minutes. Thickness can be adjusted with more liquid or tomato paste.
  • To serve: Ladle soup into deep bowls, top with a poached egg, a heaping tablespoon of creme fraiche (sour cream or yogurt can substitute), chopped cilantro or parsley leaves, and a dash of paprika.

more about katrina kenison

about our upcoming events

KATRINA KENISON AND I will be reading together from our two new books, “The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life” and her “Magical Journey” An Apprenticeship in Contentment,” at bookstores and other venues around the Northeast this winter. Come join in our conversation–or invite us to visit your library or bookstore or book group (virtually by Skye, or in person) by emailing using the contact form. Our “duet” events so far:

My entire 2013 events calendar is here.

  1. ellen rocco says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I clicked on the link to read the excerpt from your new book (I already have the other two…) but it took me to Facebook and I don’t do Facebook. I hope there’s another way to read the excerpt??? And, as always, thanks for everything you do.

  2. Nadia Ameri says:

    I noticed Saffron as an ingredient. If I may give my 2 cents, the best way to get the most from saffron is to first allow it to release its color in some boiled water. To do this you just need a pinch in a small espresso sized cup. You add a pinch of sugar to it and grind it with the back of your spoon. Then pour 2 ounces of water to the saffron sugar mix and let it sit until its red. Pour yourself a bowl of the soup, then you add some saffron water on top of the soup and mix it in. Voila! :-)

  3. My cooking is undisciplined. Vague quantities. Ingredients limited by what is to hand. The result, thought tasty, is unsophisticated. But I like lentil soup. Sometimes red. Sometimes brown. Must get out the saucepan.

  4. Charlie Bale says:

    My diet has changed to include super foods, always looking to impact my health. The next step in that process has been to find recipes that help meet that goal and of course bring back the joy of eating. I really appreciated your lentil recipe and of course the story that went with it.

    Thank you.

  5. Daisy Marshall says:

    You know I’m counting down the days for both books on pre order. Recipe looks delish, have a vegeteraian friend I haven’t asked over in ages (go out instead) I’ll surprise her with it. (and myself) Spreading the word on the book and will probably get more for gifts. Cannot even imagine how busy you must be, yet, here you are for us. Wishing you abundant blessings Margaret!!!!!!!

  6. Sharon says:

    made the soup last Friday – delicious – mine took over three hours to get the lentils and squash tender [not mushy]
    did anyone else find this to be true?

  7. priscilla says:

    Hubby, who is the soup maker in our home, made the lentil soup this week, substituting sweet potato for the squash. With whole grain bread, it was yummy, hearty + perfect for the chilly days that are with us now. The saffron flavor is not noticeable so next time we’ll try Nadia’s suggestion to make the most of this expensive ingredient. Thanks for passing along the recipe, Margaret.

  8. Nadia Ameri says:


    You can add Saffron to your tea using the same method of preparation. It gives your black tea such a heavenly scent.. and it warm the bones, especially in the cold weather..yummyyy!!

  9. joanne says:

    My soup is now going into it’s second hour of simmering and the organic green lentils are still “crunchy”. I keep adding water but want to thank the commenter who said her soup took three hours to get the lentils soft.

  10. Sandie Anne says:

    The lentil soup looks great. I cook the same way, if I don’t have something I improvise or add something that I think might be good. So my recipes never turn out exactly. When teaching my daughter how to cook I use handfuls as measurements which astounds her. But that is just the way it is!

  11. Diane Ormrod-Davis says:

    This ultimately ended up being good. But I guess the recipe hadn’t been proof read, so the saffron and the garlic – although in the list of ingredients were not in the instructions. I didn’t see the garlic in the ingredients listing, so it never made it to the pot. The saffron was added according to the way that the person suggested below. Plus it took a long time for the lentils to cook, so the butternut squash kind of dissolved, plus I did have to add quite a bit more liquid so that the lentils would absorb liquid and still have some soupy stuff too. But bottom line – it was yummy. :)

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