About me

January 17, 2011

Preserved Lemons: Taking 2011 One Inch at a Time

How are you coming along with your new year’s resolution?

Yeah, I haven’t lost any weight yet, either—in fact, I think I’ve gained a few pounds since January 1. And, well, it's very possible I overspent my budget last week.

Then again, I didn’t set goals to lose weight or save money in 2011. I learned years ago that I don’t stick with grand plans for improvement declared at the stroke of midnight. Why start the year off focussed on my flaws? Why set myself up for failure?

But this year I did take on a small resolution of sorts—it's a sense of perspective, really—that came to me naturally, out of the blue, just before New Year's day when I was home for the holidays visiting my mom and sisters back in Maine. And unlike resolutions I've made in the past, this one doesn't feel like punishment. It feels right.

This was our first Christmas since my dad passed away in April, so it was a different Christmas for my family. Lots of stuff has come up in recent months in the wake of his death and it's been a stressful time. I'm learning that the grieving process is not a linear one; it includes a range of emotions that can erupt and slip out at unexpected times. One minute you feel fine and the next you're feeling something you didn't expect to feel. You don't travel neatly from sadness and grief to contentment and acceptance. Or, that's been my experience with it.

My sisters and my mom and I spent the week between Christmas and New Years just being together. We've always been close, but we’re supporting one another and talking now in ways that we never have before. We're lucky to have each other.

We hung out and talked about fun stuff and serious stuff. We cooked dinner at home and watched movies. We bundled up against the cold and went sledding with my nephew and took walks on the beach.

And we started each morning with long coffee-drinking sessions. My mom would light a fire and we'd sit on the couch in our pjs and sip coffee until noon, at least. I must have inherited this talent for sitting and drinking coffee for hours from my mom, because we're all really good at it. We're champion lingering coffee drinkers.

One morning, we were talking about something—I can't remember what, specifically, but it was related to processing grief and facing change and life in general—and my mom picked up her copy of Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony by Ming-dao Deng and read a few entries. This one really struck me:
...No matter what your circumstances, you always have volition. Take advantage of that.
Why be so proud that you refuse to take little steps when little steps are all that you can do? If you cannot make grand strides, at least try to move an inch. An inch in one direction and then an inch in another already make up the span of two inches. Gradually, we can improve upon that. We need patience, and we need to know where we are going, but if we remember the significance of an inch, then we always have room to move.

Look at a redwood. It does not grow to its height all at once. It goes little by little. So slowly and so gradually do its roots move that it can find a toehold even in seemingly solid rock. In time, with its inch-by-inch movements, that redwood can split granite and still find sustenance for itself. At the same time, the redwood moves inch by inch upward and expands inch by inch in girth. Given enough time, the tree can outlive many creatures on earth by generations and attain a stature difficult to uproot.

The redwood does not disdain the tactics of the inch. How can we?
I like this gentle, micro approach to change and growth: It's exactly the perspective I need. So I've tucked this message away in the back of my mind and plan to draw from it throughout the year when I'm feeling stifled by the big picture. I'll apply it to every area of my life: from processing big, sudden changes to improving my health to managing my finances and even to updating this blog.

These preserved lemons represent my first inch into 2011. With just a few slices of lemon, a handful of salt, and a couple glugs of olive oil I have something new in my pantry. I'll chop them up through the winter and use them to brighten sauteed vegetables, chicken dishes, or fish. They will give me one more reason to eat healthy, economical food at home and one less reason to splurge at a restaurant. They're a tiny step toward progress.

Happy New Year, to you! Did you make a resolution? How do you approach the new year?

Preserved Lemons
From Patricia Wells at Home in Provence: Recipes Inspired by Her Farmhouse in France
I poked around online for recipes for preserved lemons and consulted a few cookbooks on my shelf before settling on this one by Patricia Wells.

Considering that preserved lemons consist mainly of two ingredientslemons and saltthere's a surprising amount of variation to the recipes. Some call for cutting a small wedge from a whole lemon or scoring the ends and packing the incisions with salt; others have you slice the lemon partially, so that it remains joined at the tip. You can layer the lemons in salt, rub them with salt, or both. Lemon juice is added at the start or some versions have you press the cut lemons daily, firmly with a spoon, over a period of several days to extract their juices before storing them. And any combination of bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, or cardamom pods can go into the pot, if you like.

The no fuss, simplicity of Patricia Wells' recipe appeals to me. It calls for cutting the lemons into wedges, making them more managable than whole lemons, I think, when it comes time to use them. And she tosses the lemons with salt and lemon juice before layering them in a container. What really sold me on her version, though, is the generous dose of olive oil poured over the lemons at the end to seal them off, after they've spent several days pickling in their salt-lemon juice bath. As she says, the oil acts as a preservative and also "mellows and defines the final result." I like the idea of smoothing the lemon bite a bit, but you could leave out the olive oil if you prefer a sharper, more pure lemon taste.

I made two batches: one with Meyer lemons, which are already on the sweet, less acidic side; and a second one with standard, organic lemons.

2 lemons, organic if possible
1/3 cup coarse sea salt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
About 1/2 cup olive oil

Scrub lemons and dry them well. Cut each lemon lengthwise into 8 wedges. In a bowl, toss the lemon wedges, salt and lemon juice to coat the fruit evenly. Transfer to a 2-cup glass container with a non-metal lid. Close the container tightly and let the lemons ripen at room temperature for 7 days. Shake daily to evenly distribute the salt and juices. To store, add olive oil to cover and refrigerate for up to 6 months.

Yield: 2 cups lemon wedges

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