On pause


This week my friend Pat sent me a birthday gift (I love it when my birthday goes on and on like that). The box was stout and heavy and wrapped in black and red paper. Inside I found a real mortar and pestle, a set like Pat’s that I’ve been eyeing for several years. With his, he grinds salt into powder in a way I can’t manage with my trusty miniature one.

I haven’t used it yet because it’s new and there’s something about receiving a beautiful thing that makes me delay gratification. I look at the creamy bowl every day (mine doesn’t yet have a home on a high shelf like Jane Kramer’s does) and think about how much I’d like to make pesto in it by hand. It’s part planning and  part anticipation, sure, but I’m also intentionally waiting so I can enjoy its presence as a new presence for a little longer. Once I crush the first clove of garlic or pulverize some peppercorns in it, my relationship with this object will change.


Much of the time I live, as we all do, in floaty, in-between spaces like these, waiting for the transition. A space between no and yes – or yes and no – can act as an indicator needle on a relational continuum, give heft and lift to a learning curve or simply help me ask, “Now, then. Where are we?”

Maybe I’m wrapped in a pause like this one, before a static item becomes a working one. Or I’m in forced stasis, trying to ignore the cautiousness creeping into my contentment. Or I could be taking a hands-on-hips exploratory pause, sizing up someone I’ve met but don’t know quite yet.


It’s like the coconut peanut sauce I made this week. I sautéed shallots until they were browning and added garlic. Then in went coconut milk, two heaping soup spoons of peanut butter, salt, pepper, tomato paste. At the end, a half a bunch of cilantro. What excited me in the pan became dull on quinoa, though, and I spent the meal internally shrugging. When I cleaned up, I scraped the last two tablespoons into a small glass jar.

An overnight intermission helped and today, hungry but short on time, I reheated a piece of rock fish in a cast iron skillet, removed it to a plate and heated my sauce in the same pan. The heat forced the coconut solids to separate a bit and released the scents of peanuts and coriander.

The sauce clung to the slick fish, counterbalanced the browned and crispy edges. What was gloppy became creamy; muddled was suddenly bright. Maybe it too needed time to sit and wait overnight, time for the flavors to meld. Or maybe it was context. In this case, that seemed to be enough.



19 thoughts on “On pause

  1. love this post. especially the line ‘Much of the time I live, as we all do, in floaty, in-between spaces like these, waiting for the transition. A space between no and yes – or yes and no – can act as an indicator needle on a relational continuum, give heft and lift to a learning curve’. it is so hard to BE in the transition, instead of waiting for it to pass.
    Thanks for the reminder, and the lovely photographs.

  2. Beautifully written comments on the nature of context and timing. This yummy sauce was just waiting for a tasty fish. The lovely mortar and pestle will happily embrace the greenness of pesto when the time comes….

    • Thank you, Sherri! It’s currently in use and full of sea salt that is crushed into fine sand. Maybe we can eat pesto one of these days – soon? It’s been too long.

  3. Oh my, what delightful way to say Thanks: page 1, line 1! I am so happy you are happy. There is nothing quite like a pharmaceutical-grade m&p in the kitchen. Enjoy – looking and eventually using. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy your sauce over fish sometime soon. Yum.

  4. Another delightful post! I love the image you create with the description “taking a hands on hips exploratory pause…” among others. Great writing and a delicious looking dish!

  5. I often wait to enjoy new things, too. It’s part of the pleasure and respects the importance of using a treasured item for the first time. I hope you’re not getting tired of me saying this, but I’m so taken with how your writing speaks to me. And I adore that handsome pooch, too!

    • I never tire of kind words. Really – as you know, it’s so helpful after sitting in front of a screen for so long. Thank you so much. And I love knowing we’re kindred spirits in our connectedness to pretty, useful things. I’ll think of you as I’m preparing spices for our next recipe. And, yes, isn’t he a pretty guy? Such a love.

  6. Looks really tasty. And the (gorgeous) new puppy certainly looks like he thinks so. Or maybe he just has his paws on his hips? 😊

    • Heh – yes, he’s certainly sizing us up, too! Funny, he’s so great about it when I photograph the food. He’s curious and tries to sniff it but never makes a move to eat anything. Good thing I don’t eat meat – I think having to look at a plate of it would drive him crazy!

  7. Your doggy looks so intelligent! Not being a dog-lover, I’m often amazed by the attraction I feel to some animals. He’s looking like he’s trapped in the space between yes and no :)

Comments are closed.