Intro

I resisted the urge to “style” my mess and actually my kitchen has seen much worse. Also, since I’m being very honest, I originally had two small images of my messy kitchen in this post but realized that that needed to be big. Breathe.

A friend encouraged me to take a picture of my messy kitchen for you all to see. We’re no longer friends. (That’s not true).

After the initial terror of the idea I started to see her point then finally came around to agree with her completely. There are a number of reasons why she was encouraging me to do this.

First of all she admitted to me her thoughts the first time she saw my kitchen.

“This is where she cooks everything?”

My kitchen has no pantry to store the assortment of flours and sugars I would like to keep. There isn’t an expansive island to knead doughs and gingerly work cold butter into flour. There is very little counter space and half of the space there is is taken up with coffee equipment. Priorities.

This isn’t me complaining. This is just how it is. Of course there are things I would like to have in a kitchen that I don’t have currently but this space works and I am grateful for it.

So my friend thought you should all see the space as well. More specifically the space in the state of disarray in which it is often found. Dishes from lunch that happened hours ago still sitting. Items that should be tucked away into the overcrowded cupboards clutter the countertop and take up much of the coveted space needed for mixing, rolling and sanity. She wanted you all to see a bit more of my reality. She wants you to know that my kitchen is small, it’s often a mess and also that the cake from my last post took three attempts one of which included me dribbling chocolate across my house because of a cake pan that had acquired holes which I hadn’t noticed until after I poured the liquid into the pan.

 

It’s not just her. I want you to know this too. I don’t put myself and my work onto this space to be elevated in any sort of way. My fear is that you would use any part of my life as you’ve imagined as an excuse to not create the recipes on the site or to create in general.

“She’s got time.” “She’s got space.” “She’s got three perfectly behaved children who clean for her, massage her feet and actually are the ones making the recipes on the site.”

I may have more time than some, I might also have less. I may have more space than some or I may have less. And well, the last one was just put there so I could laugh while I imagined that scene.

The truth is my day is always a series of choices. Right now I’m choosing not to clean the kitchen so that I can spend some time with you in this space. Also, I’m choosing to not do laundry when really now would be a perfect time because except for this fly buzzing around me, currently the house is quiet.

I’ve been asked numerous times, “how do you do it all?” I sort of love and hate that question. I love it for a brief moment because sometimes I can be grossly prideful. So the fact that I have somehow painted a picture of myself as having figured it all out seems pretty great. And then I think, that’s horrible. That poor young mother or person in the cubicle working long days thinks that I eat chocolate and frolic in the garden with my well-behaved children all day long.

I have been that young mother mindlessly peering into other people’s “lives”. With unrealistic brush strokes I painted a picture of their lives as some sort of idyllic reality that I wanted rather than the messy life that I was living. Logically I know that everyone’s reality includes some messes and really we don’t want to see that all the time but every once in awhile I think it’s refreshing to see the mess and humbling to share it.

That dim photo of items out of place – a chaotic mess of life and our reality is also there to fill in for the words that I can’t find yet. This space has been silent for longer than I normally allow but I haven’t been able to put myself here as my mind has been in the same state as my kitchen. Dark, cluttered and despondent.

The beauty of darkness is that it is often there where life’s most valuable lessons tend to hide. Because of the lack of light the lessons are hard to spot, but when you start to see them, that’s when joy becomes part of the suffering.

In the midst of this season of darkness I’m reminded of the power in vulnerability. A humbling lesson as I realized again and again that I can not battle this alone but what has come from that vulnerability is greater love, deeper respect and a refining of who I am.

When listening to Ruth Reichl speak last weekend at a conference I attended and spoke at, she was urging us to return to the home table and to invite people to join you there. Sharing a meal in a restaurant is a completely different experience than opening up your home to others. “When you invite someone into your home you become vulnerable.” She said. “You are saying this is who I am.”
She fears we’ve lost that kind of intimacy and we are not the better for it.

As with any sort of vulnerability, when I think to invite others into my space the wave of excuses hit with great force. “My home is too small. They’ll be uncomfortable. The kids will be too loud. I don’t have matching dishes. They’ll see the stains, the mess, the clutter.

They’ll know me in a way I’m not sure I’m ready to be known.”

It’s an exhausting work trying to hide oneself. A work that I don’t care to excel in. For the sake of greater love and for the hope of guiding someone else in their darkness I become vulnerable. It’s an act of faith. It’s removing the band-aid while the wound is still fresh trusting that the air will help in the process of healing.

 

Green lentils with arugula and asparagus
inspired from Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi
serves 4

The past several Sundays have found me at the Farmer’s Market with the sun beaming on my face and my smile radiating back. The offerings are still a bit slim but each week I faithfully return I am rewarded with a bit more abundance. Arugula and asparagus are always a must, beyond that it’s what else I can fit in my hands while still be able to manage the three littles. This recipe highlights the season so beautifully. It’s quick and easy and a perfect option to serve when opening up your home and sharing a meal.

1 cup green lentils
4 cups arugula
½ cup parsley
½ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 Tb red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 bunch asparagus
salt and pepper
pecorino (or parmesan)
lemon wedges

Wash the lentils then simmer in a saucepan covered with plenty of water. Simmer until tender but not mushy – about 15 minutes. Drain any remaining water after cooking.

While the lentils cook put half the arugula, the parsley, oil, garlic, vinegar, lemon zest and a hearty pinch of salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed or a squeeze of lemon.

Add this pesto to the warm lentils then set aside. Taste again and add salt if needed, most likely it will need it.

Roast or grill the asparagus until charred in places and cooked through. Cut into 1-2” inch pieces. (I cut off the woody part of the asparagus then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper then place on a hot grill pan for about 2-3 minutes per side).

Toss the asparagus and remaining arugula with the lentils. Top with plenty of shaved pecorino and serve with lemon wedges.

You can serve this dish warm or room temperature. A perfect, healthy spring dinner, I’d say.

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Green lentils with arugula and asparagus


inspired from Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi
serves 4

The past several Sundays have found me at the Farmer’s Market with the sun beaming on my face and my smile radiating back. The offerings are still a bit slim but each week I faithfully return I am rewarded with a bit more abundance. Arugula and asparagus are always a must, beyond that it’s what else I can fit in my hands while still be able to manage the three littles. This recipe highlights the season so beautifully. It’s quick and easy and a perfect option to serve when opening up your home and sharing a meal.

1 cup green lentils
4 cups arugula
½ cup parsley
½ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 Tb red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 bunch asparagus
salt and pepper
pecorino (or parmesan)
lemon wedges

Wash the lentils then simmer in a saucepan covered with plenty of water. Simmer until tender but not mushy – about 15 minutes. Drain any remaining water after cooking.

While the lentils cook put half the arugula, the parsley, oil, garlic, vinegar, lemon zest and a hearty pinch of salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed or a squeeze of lemon.

Add this pesto to the warm lentils then set aside. Taste again and add salt if needed, most likely it will need it.

Roast or grill the asparagus until charred in places and cooked through. Cut into 1-2” inch pieces. (I cut off the woody part of the asparagus then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper then place on a hot grill pan for about 2-3 minutes per side).

Toss the asparagus and remaining arugula with the lentils. Top with plenty of shaved pecorino and serve with lemon wedges.

You can serve this dish warm or room temperature. A perfect, healthy spring dinner, I’d say.

91 Responses to “my mess”

  1. sara

    so poignant. Appreciate the honesty and think it’s true of all of us taking pictures in our kitchens. You’ve got to paint an attractive picture while still trying to be humble and real…harder than it sounds. All to say, loved the post and anxious to try the salad.

    Reply
  2. Lynn

    Years ago I took some cooking classes from Bruce Naftaly at Le Gourmand. Aside from the “recipes,” the biggest thing I took from his classes was that you don’t need the best, biggest, newest stuff or kitchen to be able to cook delicious food. I love to see real messes – very encouraging to those of us who cook to feed our family & friends.

    Reply
  3. shanna

    This is, hands down, my favorite post I’ve ever read here (and I’ve liked lots of them!). There is such beauty in humbling ourselves to be vulnerable–and even more than that, the very vulnerability we’re afraid to have is what’s necessary for any real intimacy. This is inspiring. Thank you for posting it.

    Reply
  4. Nicola

    Your friend was right – this was very good, for me to remember that we don’t need Pinterest-worthy kitchens and outrageous storage options to be able to produce beautiful delicious food. And also, that the mess is just part of this stage of life.

    Reply
  5. brandi

    beautiful post and a gorgeous mess.

    i don’t trust people with spotless kitchens :) the best food comes out of those with sticky counters, splatters on the stove top, and fingerprints on the fridge doors.

    Reply
  6. Kimberley

    I love this. So much. You couldn’t have said it better. It’s a shame that when we edit, other people are intimidated. I always like to hope that I inspire people to cook, rather than make it seem daunting. Your perspective here is so appreciated. I could go on, and on. Thanks for this. You are one awesome lady.

    Reply
  7. Cookie and Kate

    Ashely, I absolutely adore this post. I don’t have kids and can hardly manage to pick up after myself (!) so I have wondered how you do it all. Generally speaking, the state of my kitchen is an excellent reflection of my state of mind. Your honesty is refreshing, thank you for sharing. And that lentil salad! I want it for dinner.

    Reply
  8. tracy

    wow.
    we’re packing up and moving right now and my biggest regret is that i didn’t have enough get-togethers at my house. tons of people always want to come over and i always feel embarrassed…like my house won’t live up to the hype. People see what I want them to see online and i forced myself to only let people who know the REAL me to come over.

    what a lovely post…and a really good reminder that in our new place, i MUST MUST MUST open up my home in order for love & warmth to come in.

    thank you for being vulnerable. thank you for being honest! thank you for brightening my day. I always love your posts, friend!

    Reply
  9. Elisabeth

    So true. Almost makes me want to cry a bit. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  10. Joanna

    This is exactly why I love reading your blog, Ashley. You are a generous, open, funny, honest writer who takes amazing photos of delicious food. I’ve cooked so many of your recipes and adored so many of your photos, but I keep coming back because you write honest words. “My day is always a series of choices.” I’m going to carry that with me for a while! Thanks for posting this.

    Reply
  11. Kasey

    I adored this post, Ashley. You’re inspiring me to post photos of my tiny little kitchen, with its ugly brown cabinets, and the mess of pots that is constantly falling (not to mention a bevy of glass mason jars that I barely have room for at all!). I love having friends over for dinner. In fact, it’s a great way to really get to know someone…to show them this is where I live and yes, those are my 4 pairs of shoes that I forgot to put away before you came over…

    Reply
  12. Jacqui

    thank you for opening your home to us, Ashley. I think I spend so much time on Pinterest lately, dreaming of perfectly white kitchens, that I forget the reality: Your home is who *you* are. Yes.

    Reply
  13. melissa | west coast nest

    I loved the honesty of your post! I’m the young girl in the cubicle dreaming of the day I will be able to stay home, creating, photographing, blogging — living my”perfect” life. Thank for reminding me that life isn’t always easy, tidy or perfect, but rather it is REAL. Thank-you for being real!

    Reply
  14. Karin

    Love this post and the message in it. And the lentil salad seems good too. Will definitely try it.

    Reply
  15. Hannah

    I am ignoring the dishes and laundry to read your post and so glad I did. Thank you for sharing with us! Life is all the bits and pieces that make us who we are – dirty pans and all. My kitchen is tiny and over the years of cooking in it I’ve come to love it and take pride in all I create in my little space. I’m making this lentil dish as a vegan option (minus the cheese) for a dinner this weekend and can’t wait to try it.

    Reply
  16. MG Atwood

    It’s always so interesting to me how people perceive themselves. When I was at your place, I was in awe how you could cook such magnificent things in so little space. I admired that, not anything less. Nobody expects perfection. You shouldn’t either.

    Reply
  17. Sury

    Heh, I am so glad you read your post. I always bemoan how small my kitchen area is and how I have so little equipment. And how I can never have the space, energy or time to take pictures of what I cook …

    The only difference is that I cannot leave dirty plates and pots alone. I came from a very strict family of chefs and now I am like a crazy person forever cleaning up and organising before, during and after I cook.

    I love your salad but might have to go easy on the lentils since I have a slight problem with legumes. Bless you for this wonderful post. :)

    Reply
  18. Alison

    This is my favorite post now ;) you know, I was surprised when I saw your kitchen too. It is small and that inspires me. I love your heart. Now you need to come over to my new messy kitchen soon!

    Reply
  19. molly

    i like that mess, very much.

    and these lentils + asparagus.

    and your priorities.

    but most of all, i think you are just the best. top notch. cat’s pajamas. mess and all. especially mess and all. most especially too-small house and too-loud children. because what else is there, really?

    xo,
    molly

    Reply
  20. molly

    btw, i’ve been eating, and crushing hard, on your spinach + orange + nibs salad this week. it’s made for three meals, already, and i’m not done yet…

    Reply
  21. Trisha

    Ashley, your transparency is so endearing and makes your blog even more enjoyable to read. Thanks for giving us a little picture into your life and heart. I am inspired by you!

    Reply
  22. Sam

    What a totally inspiring post. I needed to read this now! So glad I found you. I am that new mother, not writing, battling the enormous mess. And yes, silently envying families with older kids who seem to manage much better than I imagine myself to. It’s all perspective, right? Thank you.

    Reply
  23. Julia

    I think, deep inside we all know, that nobody has this perfect, always happy, tidy and beautiful life, but sometimes we forget about it and its important to be reminded of it again, like you did. Blogging is much about keeping the right balance between real and idyllic life you are presenting, isn’t it?
    BTW: Beautiful table cloth!

    Reply
  24. Sarah

    Your entire post rings true with me! I went from having no one in my tiny apartment, which I share with my boyfriend, to having people over for three consecutive nights this week. We have no dining table, our coffee table isn’t flat (it undulates like a sea wave), no seating, and our living room is attached to our kitchen. Needless to say, we have to eat sitting on the floor.

    The funny thing is, I went from feeling anxious to wanting MORE people over. It’s interesting to see how little my friends actually cared about my apartment…we’re still at that age where having a home cooked meal feels special (either that, or no one I know seems to know how to cook).

    Thank you for affirming reality! :)

    Reply
  25. Kasey

    I never comment on blog entries, but I’m moved to do so by your lovely heartfelt post. Thanks so much for sharing what you did. It’s an inspiration and encouragement to me. Looking forward to reading more of your blog… and to making this salad, too.

    Reply
  26. Autumn

    I went home last night and made the Green lentils w/ Arugula & Asparagus and OMG my new favorite quick dish! Every bite I was saying Mmmm! My boyfriend loved it too and I can’t wait to eat my leftovers for lunch!!! Thanks for the great recipe!

    Reply
  27. Brianna

    Refreshing post! I like the idea of inviting others into our homes to see our “mess”. I have never had any of my friends over because it’s never clean enough or I am embarrassed for whatever reason.

    Reply
  28. ana {bluebirdkisses}

    completely agree with you and thanks so much for sharing. I clean my kitchen 1 time a day….after Johannes goes to slee. I chose to spend time with him, or cooking, rather than cleaning a messy kitchen. Sometimes my husband will actually jump in and help do it. But prioritizing is key. And my priority is my family, and the food we put in our bodies. No one ever died of a messy kitchen.

    Reply
  29. Rachel

    Ashley, this is the kind of post that makes a perfect stranger want to wrap her arms around you and give you a big squeeze. Thanks so much for the encouragement. This week I’ve been re-evaluating my priorities and was reminded that keeping a facade just can’t be one of them. You’ve done something wonderful just by being honest–in a digital world we can easily forget what reality looks like. It can make life much more intimidating than it needs to be. Thank you!

    Reply
  30. Darlynne

    Your friend was right, and all is not just well, it is better. Thank you.

    Reply
  31. Elizabeth (Greens & Seeds)

    What a beautiful kitchen you have. Mess aside, I’m drooling over the gorgeous tile work, the dishwasher, full size stainless steel stove and the Kitchen Aid in the corner.
    And thanks for the encouragement to have people over for real meals. One of my favorite things in the world to do. (I call it “FDN” – Family Dinner Night)

    Reply
  32. Kristen Hess (The Artful Gourmet)

    I love this post and can totally relate! Being a NYC food blogger myself with a tiny Manhattan kitchen I often feel like I’m living inside my kitchen sink or pantry with all the dishes, books, magazines and props, food stuff.. But I guess we sacrifice to live in an amazing city all for the love of food and passion in what we do, right?

    Cheers to you!
    Kristen :)

    Reply
  33. charlotte au chocolat

    I loved this, Ashley. I’m having a friend from abroad stay with us this week, and this whole week I’ve been feeling uncomfortable- vulnerable, I guess- like, so she’ll see that my backyard is a mess, and that I don’t have enough coffee mugs, and…. My desire for everything to be “perfect” has been really exhausting. Thank you for this. For the reminder that opening up my home makes me vulnerable, but also lets in so much warmth.

    Reply
  34. Jana

    I have constant state of guilt about “my mess.” My kitchen is also small, filled with a french press, an electric tea kettle, mixers etc. Amazing and delicious foods come from our small kitchens. Love this post.

    Reply
  35. Selah

    Ashley…thank you. I love this post because I do tend to beat myself up for not being perfect. My kitchen is also small and I do tend to choose to other things than clean so to know that I’m not alone is comforting. By the way, I love everything you do and I did make your ultimate chocolate chip cookies {in high altitude-CO} with a few tweaks and they came out pretty damn awesome! Thank you!

    Reply
  36. Aly ~ Cooking In Stilettos

    What a beautifully honest post – and, quite frankly, I totally get it. When cooking, my kitchen tends to turn into this chaotic state and my friends are always amazed at how much of a whirling dervish I am while cooking and I don’t always have time to “clean as I go”. My thought – I’ll clean it up later – being with them and in the moment is way more important.

    Reply
  37. la domestique

    So beautifully written, and you’ve got a great friend for encouraging you to post this. I sometimes look at the most homogenous, organized, perfect kitchens online and think to myself, “The best cooks have the messiest, un-matching, cluttered kitchens.”

    Reply
  38. Amy

    beautiful. honest. real. bless you, for going there. bless you, for unveiling how a kitchen/life/hosting should look. bless you, for boldly being vulnerable so that we can share in the mess.
    Looking forward to a dinner invite. The more chaotic, the more messy, the more disorganized the better! Lap dining accepted & encouraged.

    Reply
  39. Rachel

    You are a beautiful person who creates beautiful food. Opening up can be the most cleansing thing for your soul and your mind. Being 100% yourself, and letting people in is not something everyone can do, but those who do seldom regret it.

    Reply
  40. giuseppina

    The beauty of darkness is that it is often there where life’s most valuable lessons tend to hide. Because of the lack of light the lessons are hard to spot, but when you start to see them, that’s when joy becomes part of the suffering.
    Hi Ashley, these words you’ve written almost “hurt” me in a good way. Sometimes darkness comes with no apparently reason but there’s always a reason in everything that comes to us . I don’t even find words to say how much I feel ‘so near’ to you , normally I don’t read posts till the end but this morning you kept me till the end .And moved me deeply.Thank you dear .

    Reply
  41. thelittleloaf

    What a gorgeous recipe and wonderful sentiment. It’s so easy to think that other peoples’ lives are perfect, mess free and as beautiful as the plates of food they present to the world. How refreshing to present yourself with such honesty :-)

    Reply

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