Lentil Sausage Soup: Why libraries are life changing

For JC who always makes me laugh and makes me celebrate being a nerd.

My work as a private teacher these days means that I do a lot of different types of things for an incredibly wide range of students.  The work is rarely the same from student to student and most of the time I try to remember that my main goal with many of them is to give them an opportunity to change their impression of themselves.  I have a good number of students who start with me because they dislike school, dislike reading, dislike books, or plain straight up don’t like studying.  I get them and the work is hard but always interesting and filled with eye-opening moments.

I have one student who has been with me for nearly four years and I’d like to think we have a good relationship.  He relies on me to help him get through some of the tougher assignments from school and I spend a lot of time pushing him to do the best that he can on any given assignment.  Most recently our work  has put him in my car so we can go to our local public library together.  The first time I took him he said, “Man.  This is creepy.  I don’t even know how to get around this place.”  I had to find him a sports book that he could enjoy, he would read, and be entertained by and so we walked over to the shelves and I began searching for the right book.  He stood off to the side making comments such as, “Man.  You know how to USE a library.  Do you come here a lot?” and “Whoa. How do you know how to find stuff?”  to finally, “Did you go to the library a lot as a kid?”  I answered all the questions as I searched for his book and called out titles to him that he might enjoy.  We settled on sports book that featured crazy and unusual sport contests and we left.

This student knows I know how to use a library. Most recently he wanted to have a book on tape version of a book he needed to read and came to me.  I showed him how to access our online catalog, put the desired book on hold and later on in the week picked it up and gave it to him.  He was grateful and said, “Man.  You know how to use that library.”

Just last week, he came with the book that he had to finish, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah and asked if I could read with him to help him finish as he was about 50 pages from the end.  As I had read only a portion of the book at the beginning and nothing in the middle, I figured I’d be reading it simply to help him through it, and not to necessarily being fully engaged in the book.  I knew the basics of the plot, heard the author on a variety of interviews and I figured it would be just some mellow time reading.  The two of us pored over the book, with my student asking various questions for clarification along the way.  Suddenly I was hooked.   I wanted to read the book.  About 10 pages before the end, our time together was over and he stood up and slammed the book.

“Wait.  I’ll let you finish.  Come on.  Let’s just finish,” I said.

“Nope,” he replied with finality.

“Come on!  I’ll help you finish it!  Let’s read!”


“Why won’t you just finish here?  I want you to finish here.”

“Don’t worry.  I’m going to finish it at home.  I’m stopping the book now so YOU will want to read it.  Go get it at the library.”

Huh?  What?  My reluctant reader student is convincing ME to read a book?  Yes.  Yes he is.  And in this moment, I know that he is changed.  He has changed his perception about himself as a reader – he can actually ENJOY a book.  He doesn’t enjoy all of them, nor do I expect him to, but this book he enjoyed – enjoyed enough that he wants ME to read it.  And I’ll be picking one up at my library at his request.

Now – I’ll get a nerdy here and ask that you consider the amazing educational researcher Dr. Stephen Krashen’s work on the power of the library.  It’s a great short video on youtube, and you won’t be sorry you watched.  You’ll be grateful for your local librarian, thankful your child’s school has one, and if not either of those cases, you’ll be outraged that your town and your school doesn’t have one.  I went to Children’s school librarian and local children’s public librarian last week and hugged gratefully each one of them.  Libraries are a gift and something we take for granted, but we shouldn’t.  Go, check out 50 books (it raises circulation counts which is a good thing) and sit amidst a pile of books and be transported elsewhere.

In addition to books, this lentil soup transports me somewhere else as well.  Although I’m in overly-sunny California, I’d rather be curled up by a fire enjoying this soup and a good book.  I want to be locked in so that I don’t have to go anywhere and can sit, instead, mulling over the written word and a bowl of this hearty thing.  I use the kale stems leftover from my kale salad  and I think it’s a great and healthy addition to this bowl of yumminess.  It requires a little bit of patience to build up the flavors and the base of the soup, but the end result, so worth it.  Just like a great book.

Sausage Lentil Soup
4 quarts of soup

1 pound French green lentils (I like Trader Joe’s green lentils)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 large diced onions
3 cups chopped kale stems (if you have available – I always make this after I’ve made my kale salad, so there are stems)
8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 ½  teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves OR 2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups medium diced celery (8 stalks)
3 cups medium diced carrots (4 to 6 carrots)
½ cup red wine
3 quarts chicken stock
⅓  cup tomato paste
12 to 16 oz  turkey kielbasa, cut in 1/2 lengthwise and sliced 1/3-inch thick

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, kale stems, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are translucent and tender.

Add celery and carrots and saute for another 10 minutes. Add red wine and continue to cook for 5 minutes.
Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and drained lentils, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, or until the lentils are cooked through and tender. Check the seasonings. Add the kielbasa and simmer until the kielbasa is hot.

Printable recipe

There is power in books and power in this soup.

And if you’re inspired to read a book that one of my most reluctant readers read and enjoyed, check this one out. amzn_assoc_ad_type = “product_link”; amzn_assoc_tracking_id = “weeofmen-20”; amzn_assoc_marketplace = “amazon”; amzn_assoc_region = “US”; amzn_assoc_placement = “0374531269”; amzn_assoc_asins = “0374531269”; amzn_assoc_show_border = true; amzn_assoc_link_opens_in_new_window = true;

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