slowing down

Every day, I am inspired by those of you who read and write here. Of course, I am inspired by my fellow food bloggers, who leave comments and guide me back to their explorations of persimmons, varieties of apples, and what to do with leftover roast chicken. Many a food blogger now feels like a friend, for the numbers of times I have borrowed their recipes and made them in my own kitchen.

But I am also inspired by those of you who leave comments, adding your own touches to recipes and memories of food. A few days ago, someone going by “Anonymous” left me near tears and thinking all day with this comment about the black rice flour I have learned to make:

“Yeah, rice flour is quite inexpensive in Indian stores. In India, most families make rice flour at home. We wash rice with water, dry it overnight on a clean cloth, grind it in a blender, sieve it, and run the not-so-fine stuff again in the blender until smooth. But this is my mother’s story.

My grandmother used to make rice flour with a mortar and pestle! She had a huge stone mortar and a long(as tall as a human), thick wooden pestle with which she’d rhythmically pound the rice in a left,shift-to-right-hand,shift-to-left-hand swinging motion. It was beautiful to watch.

And i buy my rice flour in Indian stores…sigh. Often i wonder what i’m running after. My grand mother was a true picture of serenity even while doing boring, every day chores. And i’m a true picture of impatience ;), because a million other chores are usually waiting to be done and i can’t focus on what i’m doing at that moment.

I’m glad you’re savoring evey moment of your life. It’s hard for many people, to live in the moment.”

Wow. This left me speechless, Anonymous. And I wish I knew your name, so I could give you credit for such a beautiful piece of writing.

This line lingered in my mind for days: “Often I wonder what I’m running after.” What are we all running after? So many people eat frozen foods or take-away from big-chain grocery stores, or make a three-minute pizza from a gluten-free crust, a bottle of tomato sauce, and some already shredded cheese. Okay, I understand the need to make dinner fast, sometimes. But what are we gaining with all that saved time? And what are we losing by not truly tasting our food?

I have been as guilty as everyone else in this culture of believing that I must rush to beat the person ahead of me, and run to outdistance my old vision of myself. But it has really been through food — making it from scratch instead of searching for a package — that I have found the stillness I sought for years.

Granted, I am lucky. I am doing work I love, living with the love of my life after having gone all my life without finding him, and eagerly anticipating what lies ahead. I feel blessed. But I am also pushing up against the deadline of my life, trying to juggle a dozen business opportunities, answer all the emails I have received (I’m going to write to all of you, I promise!), and still maintain a presence in my friends’ lives. It could be hard. But I feel like I’m here.

Why? Because I have slowed down. I have simply dropped everything in my life that does not feel necessary in the service of doing what I love. And I cook, every day, sometimes for hours. I am not always great at it — living with the Chef keeps me humble — but I love the play and allowing myself to make mistakes. And besides, when was the last time you leaned down toward the cutting board and took a deep whiff of fresh-cut ginger? When I slow down to truly experience what is before me, the richness of life yields itself.

I am far away from making my own rice flour with a mortar and pestle. I wish I could. But as much as I can, I am going to try to grind it myself, instead of always reaching for the pre-packaged flour.

Thank you, Anonymous, for reminding me.

LEMON-TAHINI DRESSING

Reading that comment reminded me of an experience I had during a meditation retreat, many years ago. We spent three days in silence, a large group of strangers who knew each other’s faces by heart by the end of the weekend. It is profoundly odd to not talk for three days. (No writing, either, so I was really pushed by this.) Somehow, the food tasted more vibrant than any food I had eaten before that. And it was, invariably, the simplest of hippy food: brown rice, sauteed vegetables, and salads. For many of the meals, I spooned little pools of a tangy lemon-tahini dressing on top of my rice or greens. The taste of it — tart with the lemons; rich with the sesame depth of the tahini; smooth and filling — stayed with me through many a meditation session.

I wondered, when I was there, how the cooks made such simple food so beautiful. One day, toward the end of my time there, I took my dishes into the kitchen. And I saw, tacked above the stove, a simple sign: “The bigger the task, the more we have to slow down.”

I have never forgotten it. Many a time, when I have been driving somewhere, worried I was going to be late, my mind flashed on that sign. And I remembered again, “This is the only time you are going to live this moment. Do you really want to experience it full of angst?” And so, I slowed down. It might have saved my life a time or two.

This morning, as the Chef and I were talking about food we wanted to make, I thought about that lemon-tahini dressing again. This afternoon, when Meri came over for a late lunch, I made some as we talked. We both grew silent, for a moment, as we ate this salad. It doesn’t take much. A handful of greens from Willie Greens and a splash of lemon-tahini dressing. That was peace.


Note: the measurements on this recipe are only approximations. When you make the dressing in the blender, keep tasting it and adding — a little more lemon, a little more olive oil — until it tastes right to you.

2/3 cup tahini
juice of three lemons
zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup olive oil

Pull out your blender. (The Chef has taught me that making dressings in a blender makes them much, much better than stirring them with a fork!) Throw in the tahini, lemon juice, lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, and salt. Pulse in the blender until all the ingredients have become one. Taste. Add more of anything you feel it needs.

Slowly, through the top of the blender — ideally, you have a lid with a hole in it for this purpose — add the olive oil in a drizzle. Continue to add it until the dressing reaches the consistency you desire. If you leave it a little thick, this makes an excellent dip. If you keep adding oil, you will have a silky-smooth dressing in a few moments. Even when it has reached the consistency you wish, let the blender run for awhile, which will allow the oil to truly blend with the rest of the ingredients.

Makes two cups of dressing, which should keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

13 comments on “slowing down

  1. Anonymous

    Shauna, your blog is the one that I try to read first on the days when I know I won’t have a lot of time to enjoy blog surfing. This post and your last post are such a reminder to really look at life and what we are doing with it. It’s about food but more about the clarity of your writing and sharing of what matters. I’m new to writing a blog and find frequent inspiration from reading yours.
    With all of the other things that I have chosen to do which indeed fill up the hours, visiting the sites of really good blogs like yours (and I’m finding new ones all the time) is like a door opening on something new and exciting. There is so much to learn. Thank you. May your joy multiply each day.

  2. Tea

    I read that comment the other day and was struck by the beauty as well. I hope the author of it steps forward!

    I hear you on slowing down and making time for what is most important. I was a go go go person for far too long–and still I can slip into that mode so easily. But more and more these days, happiness lies in doing something simple, sustaining. Like stirring a soup, with a friend in the kitchen to talk to.

    Thanks for the reminder–and the recipe. I had a lemon tahini dressing in a restaurant last night and was wondering how to recreate it. Your timing is impeccable, my dear!

  3. Sarafina

    Thanks for visiting me! I am just out of the hospital and on the mend. I hope to make a full recovery and get back to more great gf eats. Your blog always makes me realize how much there is out there (food and otherwise) to look forward to. I read all the time and always smile when you share how fulfilling your life is, and how you often recognize the joy of it. I hope to begin posting to my blog again soon… Have some delectable peanut butter cookies for me! xoS

  4. madre-terra

    What a great post today. Not that all your posts aren’t great. I, too, read that post from anonymous and was left with a lot of food for thought. Thanks for bringing it forward.

  5. Genevieve

    I have gotten that message from most all of your posts — slow down and enjoy the moment! I am very driven and have a very hard time with that but am working at it. This weekend I was inside doing some of the endless chores, my kids were out playing in the snow (yes we have about 4 inches of snow here) and I said what am I doing in here and I got warm clothes on, went out and helped them build snow forts! It was a blast and I could have missed that great time with them…thank you for the constant reminders!!

  6. Anonymous

    Another great post Shauna!
    I also read the linked-post about doing work you love, which talks about the book you are writing. I wondered if you would have time to review my new book if I send you a copy? It is officially available to the public November 21st. Let me know if your schedule could accommodate a review. Thanks.

  7. chubbiegirl

    shauna, if you have a chance, see if you can check out this book from the library (or find it elsewhere)
    http://www.amazon.com/Better-Off-Flipping-Switch-Technology/dp/0060570040
    our recent move away from the pacific NW to somewhere that is much more moneyed, and much less grounded, has been a bit of a shock for us. the town we live in has a hummer, bentley, and lamborghini dealership. a 2 bedroom, 1100 square foot bungalow around the corner from us sold for 1.5 million. the median home price in this area is 800,000 and you can’t even touch a house for less than 600,000. i won’t even tell you what our rent is.

    after living here for a while, i started to wonder, are these people happy? people here are rude. they’re incredibly aggressive drivers. they’re incredibly aggressive, period. to me, that doesn’t seem happy. i wonder what they’re families are doing while they’re off working 80 hours a week to pay for their lifestyle. i wonder if they realize that they’d have much better lives, not to mention relationships, if they ditched the jaguar and the 3 million dollar home, and spent more time with their spouses/partners/children/friends/family. i wonder if they realize that they are working longer hours than they need to. and they are, if they can afford what they own. i wonder if they realize that they are buying stuff to make their lives more pleasant so that they can stand going to work to earn money so that they can buy stuff to make their lives more pleasant so that they can stand going to work…

    i say, work as little as you have to. enjoy your friends and family while you have them. enjoy the sound of the wind in the trees, enjoy eating a good HOME-COOKED meal, enjoy the processes of everyday living, socialize while you bake bread, make cleaning the house a game, use your time to its fullest. you never know when you won’t have any more of it.

    if i can share one thing from this book, many hands make light work. and the meaning isn’t just what it seems. yes, many people working together make a job easier. they also make it more fun. what was work becomes something social. when you get involved in a conversation over a tedious task, after a while you’re not even aware that you are working…

    anyway, sorry for the novel :). i was inspired by your blog today.

    be well,
    cg

  8. erika rathje

    Shauna,
    I reached your blog via my mother when I asked her for links to blogs about food. I’m doing a project on the decline of food (i.e. the decrease in nutrients and rise in toxicity over the last 50 years or more). It’s a website that includes a blog, and I’m looking for both readership and guest authors. I’m hoping you’d be interested in contributing your thoughts and experiences! Mom says you’re very much into organic and local. Those are definitely huge parts of my project, which has actually changed MY life! When you have a chance, please take a look here. The rest of the site is just taking shape… all will be done in a month’s time. Eek!

    I’m looking forward to trying out your recipes. They look delicious :) We just can’t keep buying Chunky soup…

  9. Paulinka

    Hi Shauna! I have been reading your blog for a while and I love your writing! I had a fabulous dinner today, thrown together at the spur of the moment and while I was enjoying it I realized that it was gluten free and it made me think of you. So I decided to finally leave a comment on your site… Don’t you love it when you almost absent-mindedly combine ingredient you happen to have at hand and then are simply blown away by what you have created? Millet, half an avocado, a piece of sharp and salty sheep feta crumbled in with your fingers, a couple of smoked black olives that just happened to jump into your bike basket when you where cycling past a new deli, some celery sliced thinly on your mandoline, some red onion and a healthy squeeze of lemon juice…and because you were so lucky to have your mum visiting you just a few days ago, and lucky enough to have a mother who never arrives without a suitcase full of food, a few slices of the wild smoked salmon that she brought and that would normally be well beyond your student budget. All this in the same time that it would take to warm up a microwave meal (not that I don’t like spending hours in the kitchen but sometimes, after a day of lectures and classes, you need instant gratification). I pity all people who say they are too busy too cook or too busy to eat well.
    I wish you all the happiness in the world with Dan! The first time I was cooking with my boyfriend in his kitchen and asked for some herbs, he gave me salt and pepper! (But I will not complain–he has very much improved by now!) I will stop rambling now (can you tell I love talking about food, too?)
    Much love,
    P.

  10. Shauna

    Anonymous,

    Thank you for your kind words. I’m so happy that reading this blog opens doors for you, makes connection. I love how much of a community we are, in this food-blogging world. As much as people can decry the internet, they forget just how much it joins us.

    Tea,

    I’m so happy that my timing was perfect. Anything to make you happy, my dear. (And that commenter still hasn’t come forward!)

    Sarafina,

    Brava on being out of the hospital. And welcome back!

    Madre-terra,

    Thank you. I’m still thinking about that comment. We forget how much we can move each other.

    Genevieve,

    Oh my god, if I helped you to go outside and build snow forts with your kids, then I am jubilant. And jealous. I wish I could have been there!

    Oh Mike,

    I wish I could do a review. Perhaps in the new year? Right now, I am up against my deadline. In fact, I’m feeling a little pressed for time just writing responses to comments! I wish you all the luck in the world, however.

    Chubbiegirl,

    Agree, agree, agree. Amen.

    Erika,

    Oh, I wish I could help you. What a wonderful idea. And your mom is right — local and organic are vital to me. Unfortunately, I’m just too pressed for time with the publication of the book (see the comment above from Mike). Let me know how it’s going in the new year.

    Paulinka,

    Your meal sounds fabulous. You sound alive and well-fed! Thanks for coming by.

  11. pumpkininrecovery

    Thank you so much for the lemon tahini dressing recipe! I made it earlier this week and enjoyed it all week on my salads. Last night I got a bit adventorous and put it on some left over chicken to make a chicken “salad” sandwich. Yummy! This morning, I continued, and slathered my over easy eggs on toast with the dressing and it was devine! Thank you so much for all you share. You’re awakening such a love of cooking in me :)

  12. abbie

    I made this today and was expecting it to be thinner…I added some more olive oil.…It is the most amazingly wonderful dressing…it is thick…and I don’t care…I could eat it with a spoon.…yum. Thank you so much

  13. Sarah Wallace

    What a lovely post! Thank you, Shauna! Reading Chubbiegirl’s comment gave me the (happy) chills. I experience the pleasure of cooking food from scratch (almost) every evening, and (almost) every evening, I think about the wealth of my experience and the deliciousness of my home cooked food. As you know, I run a startup. As such, money and time are tight like they haven’t been in years. So instead of planning those exotic vacations to faraway lands (which were such a respite from the intense expectations and soul crushing politics of my swish management consulting job), I read recipes from faraway lands. And when I make my dish of braised pork belly with leeks from Fuschia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty, or an apricot tart with orange blossom cream from Patricia Wells’ Cooking in Provence, I’m transported in the exactly the way I want and need, every day. And that is pleasure. Which is what we’re all searching for in those fancy cars and fancy clothes and fancy restaurants, no?