Vegetable Barley Stew and a Walk Through the deCordova Sculpture Garden

Even Celebrant by Marianna Pineda, bronze

You may wonder what stew and sculpture gardens have in common. I gave that some thought and ended up connecting the structure of sculpture, in its variety of mediums, to the structure of ingredients for the stew! Minced garlic, chopped carrots, the malleable nature of lentils, the earthiness of wild mushrooms, and the solid reliability of barley, with the materials we saw during our walk, carved wood, cast bronze, molded glass, and even horsehair from reclaimed cello bows. It’s amazing to me that so many different flavors and textures, both visual and edible can be pulled together into a totally enjoyable afternoon, or meal. I hope you enjoy both the photos from our walk (one of the last sunny Autumn Saturdays of 2020) and the recipe for this delicious soup/stew/side dish.

Sign on the front of the museum gift shop
We didn’t stop in, but they’ve got all kinds of beautiful items on sale.

Our walk through deCordova Sculpture Park

Just a few short weeks ago we were discussing where to go for our Saturday walk. Considering one of us was recovering from a tweaked back, one recovering from a medical procedure, and one was dealing with asthma, despite what promised to be a beautiful sunny and warm day, we knew we needed to stay close to home. It was a toss-up between a historic cemetery and the deCordova Sculpture Park. Yes, the museum is also open, but we’re sticking to outdoor activities, so we made our timed reservations for entrance to the park, and planned for a morning of wandering through the woods and fields in Lincoln, admiring or puzzling over the sculpture on display.

A busy day for a Saturday!

The extra trouble to book our entries (set up to allow proper social distancing and limit the number of people on site) was SO worth it. The museum also has a pre-school and there was a registration event going on the same morning. What does that mean? Lots of little ones running around, admiring things like the Musical Fence, the sculpture of kitchen items brilliantly colored and beckoning from above, and random abstract styled human forms, suddenly appearing in the woods. It’s kind of like traveling through Alice in Wonderland to some extent. The paths and wooded areas are very easy for walking or pushing a stroller, most exhibits are interactive, or you can at least get right up close and personal, and the place is just plain inspirational. If you’ve never visited a museum to see sculpture, this is a great “first” sculpture experience.

There was so much to see there. One we even found time to play with the Musical Fence and relax in a very picturesque hammock:

Sandy lying in the hammock

One of our favorite sculptures was Two Big Black Hearts

Twisted Tree Cafe

Another aspect of the day was that it was the day they also called our country’s election for Biden. When our walk was finished, we headed over to The Twisted Tree . It’s a little café serving lunch, coffee, and desserts and they have plenty of outdoor seating, so it was a perfect fit for us. They also have a gallery in the same shopping center. We didn’t stop in, but it’s a great second stop if you’re in the area and looking to soak up more artwork. For us, it was a perfect spot for lunch. And as we stood with probably a few dozen others, masked, respectfully waiting for their name to be called to pick up food, you could feel the weight in the air. It was a gorgeous day, but all of us had suffered through a cantankerous week. No matter who you voted for, it had been arduous, and no one truly knew which way things were going to go. As we stood there, we looked at old women gathered around a table with coffee and pastry chatting quietly, little children in masks sitting with their families, being far too well-behaved for children. People who knew each other nodded, and joined the waiting line. At one table a man was giving guitar lessons to a woman, strumming the guitar quietly and talking to her. But you could feel the uncertainty, the hesitance to speak about anything big because no one really knew where anyone else stood.

They called it for Biden!

Suddenly one of the women in the coffee circle heard her phone buzz and picked it up to look. Her face lit up and she said aloud, “They called it for Biden!” smiles lit up in the crowd, people started clapping, children started running around, and one of the women turned to another and said, “I just want to hug someone, but I can’t!” From out of nowhere a woman appeared playing an accordion as she walked around the parking lot. The church across the street started ringing their bells. It was a magical moment. One I’ll never forget. And when we got home, I made this soup!

Vegetable Barley and Lentil Stew


  • ½ cup red lentils
  • ½ yellow onion finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 cups greens (I used frozen spinach but you could use chard or kale)
  • ½ cup dried wild mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ TB olive oil
  • 3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable broth if you want to keep this vegan)
  • 3 cups water
  • ½ cup pearl barley
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 TB smoked paprika
  • 1 TB dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
saucepot simmering
That first half hour simmer will fill you house with lovely smells


  • Rinse and drain the lentils
  • Finely chop onion and carrots, coarsely chop greens, mince garlic
  • Soak the dried mushrooms in warm water for about 15 minutes. Then rinse, drain, and chop.
  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, and garlic and saute until soft.
  • Add carrots, mushrooms, and lentils and sauté stirring occasionally, until carrots have softened and onions start to brown.
  • Add cumin, paprika, and oregano, and cook for another minute or two until all is well mixed and you start to smell the spices.
  • Pour in broth, water, and barley, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to simmer, covered for 25 minutes
  • Stir in the tomatoes and continue to simmer another 25 – 30 minutes until lentils and barley are tender.
  • Add chopped greens and cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

If there isn’t enough broth for you, add a bit more stock. This soup keeps well in the refrigerator, or you can freeze it in serving size containers. We had it as soup but also used a few scoops as a side dish with steak one night. It’s a filling, healthy, and protein-rich soup you’ll want to make again and again.

One thing our Saturday hikes has taught us, never underestimate the magic of a place. We’ve done beach walks, forest walks, and now a hike through a sculpture garden. Just keep your eye open for surprises. Just like when you’re cooking. If you have a favorite spice or some leftover vegetables, why not do a bit of research and see what you can create!

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You might also like some of my other recent posts! I’m focusing on soups for a bit ahead of the Thanksgiving Holiday but also watch for some of my holiday favorites coming soon!