Rachel's Table

Like New

So far 2013 has been a drag.

I’ve been a bit depressed. No, that’s not true. I’ve been VERY depressed.

I won’t go into details as to the why or how of it all. Let’s just say I was so depressed that:

  • My Christmas tree is still up (if you know me, you know this is a CRIME)
  • Uncharacteristically, I haven’t made a real meal in DAYS. Instead I’ve been living off eggs and pasta (yes, at the same time if needed)
  • The only people I’ve talked to in ten days aren’t even people. They are cats named Willow and Zuzu and they are my best friends
Willow and Zuzu fascinated by their first snowfall. (I took lots of pictures of these two over the last few days.)

Willow and Zuzu fascinated by their first snowfall. (I take too many pictures of these fuzzybutts. Cats are funny.)

  • I ordered a pizza from Papa John’s last weekend. PAPA. JOHN’S. I’m so ashamed
  • I don’t remember the last time I changed the sheets on my bed
  • I’ve decided that washing my hair is optional
  • So is shaving my legs
  • When going out in public I consider yoga pants “real” clothes

Is this a case of post-Christmas blues? Do I need an intervention? Possibly on both counts.

But it’s more than that. A change is brewing in my heart. I know this because the only thing that helped me through this dark time was a passage from the book of Isaiah:

If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again. ~Isaiah 58:9-12 (The Message)

After reading these verses, I received some much-needed clarity. I was able to pull my head from underneath the covers and out of my Netflix fog and realize that my life has a purpose. It’s not what I thought it would be when I was a wide-eyed (and rather clueless) college student anticipating the future as I saw it.

Instead, I know my purpose/future might not be about ME at all, which kind of takes the pressure off. Yes, I have goals, dreams and aspirations to achieve, but my focus is shifting. Using my creativity and free time to pursue just my own agenda is becoming as empty as a plate of brownies after five consecutive episodes of Glee. Is that just the depression talking? I don’t think so. The key to getting the “glow” Isaiah talks about is one word: others.  And not just in a general “do unto others” or Golden Rule kind of way, but in an actual I-will-make-sacrifices-for-those-that-need-it-most kind of way.

After slowly, oh-so-slowly, coming to this realization, I suddenly wanted to cook something, which is one of the first signs I’m going to be okay. That and a desperate need to wash sheets and yoga pants.

Problem is, depression breeds apathy which breeds an inability to leave the house for any purpose which gives birth to empty cupboards. I headed to the pantry to see what I could throw together with canned goods, a few veggies, and something from the freezer.

The result was nothing short of miraculous. The fact that I could conjure up something this good out of what I thought was NOTHING fed my soul, my spirit, and my belly.

Cod with Tomatoes, Fennel, Saffron and French Lentils

Make the lentils:


1 tablespoon olive oil

2 carrots, chopped smallish

1 small red onion, chopped smallish (use any kind of onion, but I had red on hand)

1 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup French lentils, rinsed

1 cup chicken stock

1 bay leaf

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add the carrots and onion and cook until soft.  Add salt and pepper and bay leaf. Add the lentils and chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until just tender yet still firm, about 20 minutes.

Beautiful French Lentils cooking with carrots, onions and bay leaf

Beautiful French Lentils cooking with carrots, onions and bay leaf

Make the fish:


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 red onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 fennel bulb, quartered and thinly sliced

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with liquid

Kosher salt and pepper, to your desired taste

1 cup chicken stock

1 teaspoon saffron threads

4 (5 ounce) cod fillets (This would work nicely with tilapia too)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add fennel. Cook for 4 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper, chicken stock, and saffron. Bring to a boil. Simmer for five minutes.

I don't cook with fennel much, but I'm glad a recent restaurant trip inspired me to buy a bulb. I'm also glad fennel is so hearty. This guy hung out in my fridge for two weeks.

I don’t cook with fennel much, but my recent Philly trip inspired me to buy a bulb.

Push the fish fillets into the sauce, making sure to cover with broth and veggies. Cover and simmer over low heat until fish is just cooked through, about ten minutes. Serve fish on top of lentils with vegetables and broth spooned over the top.

Cod, lentils, tomato, fennel and saffron - simple, delicious and inspiring

Simple, delicious and inspiring

After I ate this dish, I felt refreshed and nourished (literally and figuratively).  I was reminded of another passage from Isaiah my brother mentioned to me just last week:

Do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland. ~Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

I’m not sure how cod, lentils, the book of Isaiah, a few threads of saffron, and a fennel bulb conspired together to make me feel like new, but I think God speaks in small ways and everyday things. During my “down” time, I shut out the world and tried to listen.  God whispered and assured me that He can make something out of nothing and old things new.

What inspires you when you’re down? Tell me! (I’m stockpiling ideas for when I inevitably fall into the pit of despair again.)



  1. Rachel, this post was so perfect and it fed my soul (and those lentils look delicious too!) It’s amazing how when we shift our attention onto others and away from ourselves, suddenly we receive clarity and direction. I’ll be thinking about you. The storm will pass, and it sounds like it’s already on its way out.

    • Funny you should mention that, because these last few weeks I just kept saying to myself, “This too shall pass.” Sometimes I wondered if it would. When that first bout of clarity hit me, I was so relieved! Now it keeps on coming in waves. I appreciate your kind words, Emily. Thank you!

  2. I really needed to read your words this morning. I loved the quotes.I have recently gone through a similar funk (more like a deep depression) and have reconnected with God recently. I’m re-reading the Bible right now and doing plenty of praying and meditating. I’m feeling much more centered and calmer and stronger every day because of it. My main goal this year is to listen to what God wants me to do with my life and just do it. Helping others. Getting away from myself and my ego. It’s such an amazing transformation. (I still wear my yoga pants out in public though….)

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Rachel.

    • Praying is my next big thing, Darla. It is one of the hardest things for me to do and I still haven’t figured out why. I feel like it should be as easy as breathing, but it’s just NOT.

      Doesn’t listening to what God wants take so much pressure off?? No need for New Year’s resolutions when God is the one guiding. And YES, it is an amazing transformation. Puts everything else in the proper perspective.

      (I’m wearing yoga pants RIGHT NOW. At work.)

  3. I was so looking forward to reading this, Rache. I’m trying to ‘like’ it and my computer is being a big, fat January (the worst insult of all-time, don’t you think?). Rest assured I like it times a billion episodes of Glee! (Okay. So maybe it is the Papa John’s of TV.)

    I love what you said about turning your focus to helping others and that “taking the pressure off.” Like Darla said, I really needed to read this today. Thank you.

    • I really think Isaiah and Glee are the only things that kept me sane, Jules. The Papa John’s just made me feel more like a big, fat January.

      I’m glad I put it out there. Thank YOU for always being such an encouragement and so non-January all the time!

  4. Alice

    Walking is good for me–it clears my mopes. And you are right doing something for someone else is always visions shifting–write a letter, bake cookies for a neighbor (particularly difficult ones), volunteer at as animal shelter, head to a local food bank or Salvation Army–you will return home dancing with gratitude.

    • I’ve been taking walks every night. In the dark and cold. Like a vampire. 😉 But it helps to get my blood flowing and feel the cold air on my face. Walking helps me, too! So does thinking of others. I just baked brownies for someone’s birthday. We are on the same page, Alice. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Oh boy, you really were in the depths of a deep dark depression. Papa John’s? Oh Rachel.

    I’m right there with you. I usually chalk it up to the January blues, what with the build up of the holidays being over and a long winter (and credit card bill) staring you down. Having the flu for a week definitely didn’t help, and then returning to my hellish job. It is really easy to just descend into the depths of depressionville, and I find myself there currently, population one miserable Misty.

    But! I do find that trying to get back to normal helps. Thinking about all the GOOD things in my life helps. Planning some vacations in the future to have something to look forward to (hello Disney!!) makes me smile. Getting back to blogging and visiting with bloggy friends definitely perks me up.

    I’m trying. It’s difficult, but I need to get there. I am a work in progress. Good for you for finding your way out of the dark. Whatever it is that gets you to a more positive place is good.

    • I’m going to Key West in February, so I do have that to look forward to. I need some Vitamin D!!!

      January is the WORST month, right? Absolute misery–the Papa John’s proves it.

      I hope your flu is completely gone and that 2013 is on the up swing for both of us! Thanks, Misty!

  6. Rachel, I think everyone goes through little times like these. The trick is keeping them small. Allow yourself a day or 2 to mope and feel sorry for yourself, eat junk food (but Papa John’s? oh dearie…), and then shovel all that mess out the backdoor and get on with things. Push yourself. Accept the affection others have for you. And know that IT’S OK!

    Inspirations to bring me out of these grey days? Trees. Flowers. Pinterest (gods help me, I’m hooked). Lynn Kurland novels. Paper dolls. Indulging myself just a little in things like cookies for breakfast, pizza rolls for lunch, and 3 glasses of iced coffee in 1 day. And finally, bumming out in my pyjamas watching movies like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

    • Wuthering Heights is always a good time, which is weird because it’s kind of morbid and depressing. I love it!

      I think the hardest thing for me to realize was that it was OK to shut out the world for a little while. I’m glad I did (even though Papa John’s was involved)! But I’m pushing myself now. Thank you for the encouragement!

  7. Being from Australia, I don’t know what Papa John’s is but from the previous comments it sounds serious!

    I have days like this too, in fact I’ve had almost 12 months of this at one stage of my life. It’s comforting to know that everyone does every now and again but it’s a great idea to have ideas and back ups to help you through a difficult time.

    One of mine which I haven’t finished writing yet is a list of 100 things I like about myself. I’ve started jotting things down in a cute little notebook that i can pull out to help remember that I am actually a pretty awesome person. Even when I feel like I’m not. It’s full of small things like “I like my laugh” and “I like my affection for animals”

    I don’t know if this would help you but it is a handy thing to go back to when you are feeling blue.

    Ps. I love lentils!

    • Papa John’s is like fast food pizza! And it’s definitely NOT on my locavore diet. But quick, easy, and comforting is the only way to go when I feel down!

      Thanks for the tip! (You can add “awesome commenter” to your notebook.) 🙂

  8. Beautiful post, beautiful verses, beautiful meal. This was heart-warming and inspirational. Thaaaaank you. I’ve been feeling much the same way lately, though my tree is down and my sheets are washed, I just kinda feel like blech with no direction. That first verse was incredibly perfect; praying for you 🙂

    • Thanks, Heather! I’m glad you felt inspired. Isaiah says it so much better than I ever could. That passage is SO inspirational to me–I’m trying to get my glow back!

      Sheets are washed. Tree is still up, but I’ll work on that this weekend. 🙂

  9. I have been jumping in and out of that pit (of despair) so much in the last few months I wonder if somebody put a trampoline at the bottom of it.

    Good for you for looking outside yourself for the answer – that’s great advice! And good for you for taking up showering again. Really. I wasn’t going to say anything but, really.

    And your food is simply lovely, as usual. You inspire me anew to eat healthy.

    • Shouldn’t jumping on a trampoline be fun, Peg??

      Thank you on all counts! This recipe is so easy.

      And yes, I’m showering every day now! But I’m still wearing yoga pants. I don’t think I’ll ever give them up.

  10. If there was a favorite button, I would click on it. This is beautifully written and so authentic. I think you’ve captured the drudgery of real life and the magnificence of the promise of helping others. You’re on to something really big. I feel similar – like there is so much opportunity to help others and especially with our food talents.

    • Thank you so much, Tammy. I’m excited to see what 2013 holds…my focus is slowly shifting. The “drudgery” of my life is nothing compared to that of the trials of others. My first task was to send a letter to my Compassion International child. I’ve been sponsoring her since August and haven’t written a thing to her yet. “I’m so busy,” I would say. I think little things like that will turn into big things this year.

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