Easy as anything veggie-packed bean and barley stew (slow cooker)


A friend reminded me the other day how we credit letting go with getting pregnant after 14 years...suggesting it should be no surprise the same thing should be the very first, most obvious lesson in parenting. How to have known it would also be the toughest? Patience and commitment to taking things in stride have become crucial to achieving new, ever-changing visions of a successful day. Some days, that's no more than showering and brushing of teeth (outside of baby's needs I mean). Go with the flow, I keep reminding myself, repeatedly learning the hard way until one day I get the message through my thick skull for good.

There is always too much to do to take the sage-but-feels-ludicrous advice, "sleep when the baby sleeps". What's more, when you're in the position to receive that advice, it's not too long before you want to take it and all its good intentions and launch it across the room (with all due respect) back at the giver. There is always so much that feels pressing to do...housework can only stack up so long, muscles threaten to atrophy if you give in to the chains of the Boppy much longer, deadlines need to be met, and work hangs over your head; or, if you're on a break, the idea of it haunts you, carrying worried projections of future (lack of) employability/focus/energy. You're itching in a way like never before to get out there on your own and enjoy beautiful, glorious sweat.

Yet the truth is (I think), when you do finally give in and accept the inevitable rolling with the punches, your day doesn't actually end up being less productive than those manic days you're sweating and gritting your teeth in an effort to get jobs done and goals met in the Boba wrap, in the Boppy, and behind the BOB. It's juts a little easier and more enjoyable. Cortisol levels are more stable. You're more in sync with baby. And the best part, you get more cuddles. These are very restorative, powerfully immune-boosting gems.

Life now is all about the little things, literally. There's first and foremost our universe's new sun, the Little One. And, there are all those little shortcuts and lending of hands floating like fireflies, there to be grasped if our droopy eyes can only catch enough sleep to spot them. Simple slow cooker meal making, for example, brings me immeasurable joy right now.

One thing I like about this stew is how the chewy robustness of the barley lends a creaminess without the cream. Seemingly one of the least ever controversial grains, it's an excellent whole grain source of fiber, and boasts other super nutrients like selenium, phosphorus, copper and manganese, too. Barley is notable for its cholesterol-lowering properties, decreased risk of colon cancer, and even protection from heart disease. Other things I love about this: you can throw whatever vegetables you've got in, and they'll taste good, not least the ones that are actually better for you cooked than raw. Bonus, you don't even have to pre-soak the beans. It's the height of Lazy Cooking, only you're not being lazy, you're being proactive.

Our new life changes everyday, in step with the wildly evolving life and limbs of the Little Monkey. Relaxation within the flurry of each moment is becoming a bit easier much of the time. My scars are healing. Finally driving again has been oh so liberating, and I'm starting to find ways of fitting in more satisfying workouts that bring focus to the lit, awaiting future of real training and freeing long runs again, in time. Maybe slow cooker menus won't bring me quite so much joy in the not-too-distant future, but for now, I'll take it and lap it up.

Veggie-packed bean and barley stew

  • 2 cups water
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 1 cup dried beans (I used red kidney, navy and black)
  • Approximately 8 cups assorted chopped vegetables (I used 2 carrots, a bunch kale, tomatoes, mushrooms, red and green pepper, a zucchini and an onion)
  • generous shake each of sea salt, black pepper, chili powder, and ground cumin
  1. Combine all ingredients in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook until the beans are tender, about 4 hours on High or 7 to 8 hours on Low. Serve topped with grated parmesan, if desired.