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.
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.