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23 February 2009


we are making preserved lemons

Time's funny. You know?

Yes, I'm aware that's hardly a profound sentence for how many times it has been uttered. But sometimes words fail to describe the absurd rubber-band and snap back with a boing in the eye and where the heck has all that time gone when it feels like just three minutes ago way that time shifts in and out of life.

Nearly the first photograph I ever posted on flickr was one of lemons, lined up on the kitchen windowsill, on a grey spring day. April 21, 2005. I had a tiny Nikon camera, a point and shoot no bigger than the palm of my hand. For months on end, I had been feeling sluggish, sometimes terrible, all the time confused as to why I felt 80 years old and perpetually on the couch. When the calendar slowly shifted and one more month's page shrugged off to the floor, I looked up to realize I had missed the coming of spring in between doctor's appointments and sleeping under heavy quilts. Exhausted and in pain, I forced myself to walk out my door and take photographs of what I saw around me. Tulips in bloom, rocks piled placidly, small green plants at the roots of a large tree — they captured me, in those three blocks of walking. Alone, feeling more alone than I had in years, I returned home and found three lemons on the countertop. I saw them, as beauty, as the same objects of affection I had been regarding with quiet eyes outside. I snapped the shot.

That's one of the reasons I started taking photographs of my food, that shot. Nine days later, I stopped eating gluten. A week after that, I had my official diagnosis. A month after that, I started this blog. A month after that, one of the administrators of the school where I taught at the time asked me to stop publishing a personal blog I kept for my friends, because I had inadvertently used the full name of a student there, who googled himself, found it, and read about my life. Tame, let me tell you. Nothing salacious there. But parents complained -- apparently because I had not written in praise about their students -- and there I was in an administrator's office, being chastised. So I decided, that day -- why don't I give my full writing energies this summer to writing about living gluten-free? No one will pay attention to that, probably.


"Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet
but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat."

I remember hearing this song on one of the Peter, Paul, and Mary albums my father owned. Lovely song, but it puzzled me even then. Lemons aren't impossible to eat. They're just tart, and mouth-puckering. Not what we expected.

At the time I took that first lemon photograph, I would have given anything to leave it. Alone, eyes-hang-dog-sick, no answer to the medical mystery in sight, depressed, teaching when I wanted to write full time, too tired to do anything I dreamed — that was one sour time. But I wouldn't trade it now for anything. If I hadn't lived through that acidic era, I wouldn't be here now. I wouldn't be the person I am without those lemons.

Why do we run away from the sharp acid times when they make us who we are? Why don't we embrace them, welcome them in, and say, "Oh thank goodness you're here. Without you, where would be the zest?"

I have to remind myself of this all the time. When I took the photograph of lemons above, waiting to be preserved, life felt acetic again. My mother was awaiting surgery for breast cancer. I sat in front of the computer, nine hours a day, doing work I love, but too much in the face of it all. Stress and aches and a familiar feeling of being unwell crept along my bones. All I wanted was to be sitting here a month later, eating those preserved lemons, in hummus or pasta with olives, knowing it was all over.

I'm here.

But in the moment, I wished away an early January with my husband, the one who preserved the lemons for us, and our daughter, who grows so much each day I feel like I blink and I miss it. I itched for inches of my life to disappear. What was I thinking?

You've heard the phrase before. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Me? I tend to make Meyer lemon sorbet, lemon cream puffs, and lemon tart with bittersweet chocolate.

But right now, in the middle of winter, I'm trying to remind myself to suck on the lemons instead.

And you? What do you like to do with lemons?


At 4:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A nice, thought provoking post. Indeed, there are so many things that one can do with lemons. One of life's blessings is to realize that sometimes a "lemon" presents an opportunity to do something you could not have before.

To paraphrase an example from your post: We would not be enjoying your photos and recipes if not for an "uproar" from the parents of your students. Indeed, time presented you a lemon, and you made lemon curd out of it.


At 5:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm using my lemons for my gluten free pancakes! You might want to try these, the one I just made is in the photo and they're great. Have a look at my blog - all my recipes are wheat free (unless they're kids cakes)

At 6:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for always reminding me to enjoy all life's little moments.
Take care.

At 6:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, how i love your blog.
lemon zest in apple crumbles, lemon juice in simple salad dressings, lemon slices and thyme stuffed in whole fish to back in the oven...

At 6:43 AM, Blogger sweetpea said...

I love Lemons! I love lemons so much that I invested in a very fancy citrus juicer and I juice several cups of lemons, limes and orange every week. I keep freshly squeezed juice on hand like you probably keep stock on hand! My favorite use of lemons is posted here:, I love lemon curd and usually have some homemade curd to dunk a gluten free shortbread cookie into for a treat in the afternoon! I almost always zest all my citrus and store the zest in ziplock bags in the freezer. That way I have zest on hand when ever I need it, really comes in handy! I have never preserved lemons and would love to know more about how and what you do with them!

At 6:55 AM, Blogger Allison the Meep said...

So beautifully written. As I type this, my son sits on my lap, touching all the things on my desk, some of them fragile keepsakes from friends. I just caught myself saying to him, "Please stop! I'm trying to do something here! If you can't listen, I'll have to ask you to leave the room." But the thing I should be trying to do is pay attention to my son and squeeze every last drop of happiness that the day has to offer, and savor it.

We like to make chicken piccata when we have a fresh bunch of lemons. Also, totally disgusting I know, but I like to put a little salt on a lemon wedge and just eat it. I'm not sure how long I can keep that up before all the enamel on my teeth is completely dissolved.

At 6:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very fortunate to have a prodigious Meyer lemon tree right outside my door. So, come January of every year, it's lemon meringue pie, lemon tart, lemon curd, preserved lemons, fish with lemon beurre blanc, lemon cake, and the list goes on. As late February comes around, I pluck the prettiest unblemished fruits and zest & juice them, put the zest & juice in ice cube trays, freeze and then store the cubes for use throughout the year. The remaining lemons on the tree are allowed to age a while longer, until the new blossoms come along, and I'll take the geriatrics off the tree to allow the new fruit to set and grow.

At 6:59 AM, Blogger Adrienne said...

Lemons are in my top five favorite foods. I squeeze them over that roasted broccoli & shrimp dish that's making the rounds (try it, it's fantastic!), I preserve them for Moroccan stews (butternut squash and chickpea, yum) and I zest them for risottos. Yum, yum, yum.

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Courtney said...

Some fellow foodie friends and I have an on-going debate: Is there ANYTHING that doesn't go with lemon?

So far we can't think of anything!

At 7:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Life has definitely given me a lot of lemons lately. Fortunately they have gone into the cavity of a vertical roasted chicken- your very recipe.

I love to make lemon bars- that slightly caramelized edge has to be the best part- lemony, buttery, a little gooey and a little crunchy.

But really, my favorite use of lemons is the French version of lemonade: citron pressé. When I was in Paris for the first time in 1997, I went by myself, but stayed with friends. At a small café in the 6th arrondissement I watched as the waitress inserted a small stainless pouring spout into a lemon, massaged it, and then the pure seedless juice flowed into my glass. Icy water and a few spoonfuls of sugar made the best medicine and remedy for what at that time was a broken heart.

I couldn't find a stainless version of that spout, but I bought a plastic one on the rue Mouffetard. Put it in a lemon, and Paris pours out.

At 8:48 AM, Blogger bennet said...

I needed to see this today. Your words were inspiring and uplifting. Thanks for sharing this!

At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the difference is that you're talking about having a lemon turn into lemonade (or curd, or lemon cream puffs) by itself, instead of you making lemons into something sweet. We don't think of it that way, that having an acidic time in life will naturally lead to something better, so we need to be reminded that it will.

I make crazy tea with lemons: a slice of lemon, a spoonful of honey, and a clove of garlic. It helps get rid of colds, runny noses, and sore throats, and (strangely enough), I like the way it tastes.

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I just came back from an early trip to the store where the lemons are as big as oranges. I bought one for a caeser salad tonight and a big bag of meyer lemons that I will use to make lemoncello that should be ready when the dog days of summer roll around.

Last year someone gifted a bottle of the lemon liqueur to me and I used it through the summer to make lemon mojito's and kicked up lemonade. You've got to plan your summer drinks ahead in the Pacific Northwest; sometimes it's the only way to survive the days and months of rain and gloom.

It finally settled in yesterday, as it does at the end of every February. I'm already thinking about April and the sun returning to the sky. By then the lemons will be gone but I'll have my lemoncello to get me through to the winter.

At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite thing to do with lemons-make lemonade. There are memories attached. I was a child of the 60's, growing up in the heart of the Breadbasket-Iowa. There were no lemon trees. Homemade lemonade was a rare summertime treat. Once when my dad was building the garage by our house, it was a sweaty summer day. Mom had made him some lemonade and surprised him with a big glass of it. He drank it down, like someone who had been lost in the desert for days. It quenched his thirst, gave the glass back to Mom, and simply said, "Thank you honey." There was love in those words.
She had used this lemon-squeezing contraption made of aluminum-it must have weighed 5 pounds. It is probably worth lots of money to collectors. But my oldest sister latched on to it. She has had too many lemons in her life, evidently; because she is a very sour and bitter soul. I wish I could have that thing back. I would make lemonade for any thirsty needy person I could.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger ee.spenner said...

It may be trite, but when I get my hands on some lemons I do make lemonade. Lemonade sweetened with ginger-infused syrup. Ohmygod so good. Spring, summer, winter or fall, that's my beverage of choice.

I love lemon juice. I put it in everything: over rice, in a curry, gently spritzed over a salad or fish fillet. It is so crisp and refreshing when fresh-squeezed that I let it run over my fingers in acidic rivulets, daring me to take a lick. And I do. It makes me laugh like a little girl. Lemons make me remember what it is to be joyous and carefree.

Oh Shauna! What else could tiny, citrusy sunshines sitting on a windowsill in the grey light of early spring be but a harbinger of good things to come?

At 11:21 AM, Blogger jbeach said...

Again, wonderfully written, beautifully open post. This reminds me of Pema Chodon's book When Things Fall Apart. She talks about leaning into your "sharp points" and the benefit of valuing both pain and pleasure because they both serve to wake us up and make us feel ALIVE!

As for lemons, they're simply indispensible! (sang to the tune of "simply irresistible!") zest in baking, squeeze in sauces, on top of simple sauteed veggies, mixed in juices, spritz on seafood, etc. etc. etc. And of course the 12 lemon centerpiece. :)

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Rosa said...

This lovely post reminds me so much of my life it's not funny. Sometimes I wish it was only about lemons - fresh and sunshiny!

At 11:31 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I just purchased a container of Meyer lemons at Costco. I was soooo excited!

So far I have used them squeezed into sparkling water and iced tea, and the juice over asparagus.

I even peeled one and ATE IT!

Susan :)

At 11:44 AM, Blogger Lora said...

Homemade lemon curd. Parmesan roasted broccoli that is brightened and made unbelievably delicious with lemon zest and juice. Fresh squeezed lemonade.

At 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post.

Dealing with my husband leaving and having to surgically divide our lives in two has left me feeling like I just can't get any air, like an elephant is sitting on my chest and the weight of all that is going on is slowly crushing me. Yesterday after meeting with a lawyer I told my parents, "I wish it were summer already and this would all be over."

I can't say that after reading this I no longer wish that, but it's good to have this reminder.

And in the meantime, I have four Meyer lemons sitting in my fridge waiting to be used in something beautiful.

At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do a lot with lemons. When I moved from cooking for myself with throwaway, convenience food (no excuses, but making two meals a night will do that) to cooking from scratch, I found myself using lemons all the time.

Needless to say I threw the bottle of acrid, puke yellow lemon juice away.

In the spring and summer, I squeeze fresh lemon juice over asparagus with sea salt. When I feel like gravy is too heavy, I squeeze a lemon to deglaze the saute pan and make a quick sauce with a little butter.

I'm not gonna lie, I like myself a Tom Collins, and it's so much better with fresh lemon juice.

Sometimes, I make lemonade.

At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a pizza place in my town that is so good and there is one pizza in particular that I love. When I had to stop eating gluten I asked about how to make that pizza so that I could make it at home with a gluten free crust. You know the secret? They squeezed a lemon wedge over the top just before putting on your plate. So perfect. It's a garlic olive oil sauce (just brush it on, no tomato sauce) with mozza, ricotta, onions, fresh tomatoes, parmesan, and parsley. Then squeeze that lemon all over it. Mmmmm.

At 12:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful words...I need a reminder now and then to savor all this that is my life. Before long, the distractions will be gone away, hopefully in college and I will have uninterrupted time. That's when I will wish for few more moments of today.

Love all things lemon (or lime, for that matter)...the tarter, the better.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Lauren Denneson said...

I love that statement about not being who we are unless we experience the sour times of life and without those sour times what would zest feel like? I am always preaching that to people (and is similar to my dissertation topic), but I too know how hard it is to remember. It's hard to keep from wishing away the bad times. But, especially in our cases, "'Tis healthy to be sick sometimes!"

At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I have lemons, I make the combo beverage, iced half-lemonade/half-chai tea. I'm not sure what that says about me :) Many thanks for this post! It's blogs like yours that keep me writing and looking forward to the times that appear on a distant horizon. Cheers!

At 1:49 PM, Blogger mando said...

Lemon pannacotta! Yum!

At 2:50 PM, Blogger TJ said...

From a real lemon lover...I so enjoyed that post. Plus, I often contemplate the half-full vs. half-empty way of looking at a glass of say...lemonade. Attitude is so often at the heart of how we see ourselves and our lives and the people around us. I often attempt to teach my children these ideas. Definitely going to cut and paste this post to something.

My favorite things to make with lemons...lemon chicken, french button cookies with lemon curd, lemon drops, lemon squares, salad de maison, lemon cake and poppyseed cake. My favorite shake at Iceberg...Lemon Creme Pie. Oh, how I love lemon.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

I adore fresh's quite simply the natural, simple things in life, like the lemon, that brings joy!

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Inch by Inch said...

What a neat post! We are in Phoenix area and summer is starting early. (Feel free to visit any time!) Our neighbors have let us pluck whatever lemons off his tree that we can reach over our shared fence. This is my first summer cooking for my celiac daughter and husband (dx in May and June last year). I am getting better, thanks in part to your blog, and my very creative sister in law who has converted most of her cake recipes and white sauce GF for us. :-) Last week I made crust-free lemon meringue pie. I have never been good at regular ol' wheat crusts and have not attempted a lemon one yet. Do you have any suggestions for a very quick and easy crust? Like, instead of having to roll something out and laying it in a pan (which I suck at) is there something I can press in or crumble up to make a crust? The crust-less pie came out very good! The custard part was good, but the meringue seemed kinda lonely without a crust to attach to.

At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The writing in this post is so beautiful...really well done!! Nothing better than lemons:)

At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After losing a dear friend many years ago, a teacher we'd had in common sent me a card with an old lady on the front that said, "When life gives you lemons..."

(open card...)

"Stick 'em in your bra! Can't hurt, might help!"

Probably saved my sense of humor at the time.

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Bowl of Soul Gal said...

I really enjoyed that post Shauna, and ironically I had written a post on my blog a while back about "making lemonade" when life gives you lemons. :)

I use lemons on EVERYTHING! They are so delicious and medicinal, as well. I squeeze them in every glass of water or juice I drink, rub them on my hands, and just last night I sauteed the most delicious onions with asparagus, garlic salt and ahhhh tons of fresh lemon juice!

Cheers and very happy to know that your mother is well now.

At 9:41 AM, Blogger Anna said...

Thank you for that post Shauna. So good to be gently reminded.

I love lemons. My favorite thing to do with lemons is to make home made lemon lime spritzer(soda) with my daughter. She's got such a passion for life, it's infectious. We roll the lemons and limes on the counter to loosen up the juice, then slice in half and ream on an old fashioned citrus juicer. Simply sharing the excitement and joy my daughter gets with lemons makes that my favorite way to use lemons. She is also a seed saver by nature and saves all the seeds that come out.

At 11:29 AM, Blogger Camille said...

Great post. So glad I stumbled upon your blog. :)

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Jacqui said...

Fresh lemon squeezed over buckwheat pancakes!

At 8:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

gluten free lemon meringue pie!!! we were over zealous with lemons one month and made lots of pie..... it was so good. and lemon cheesecake. mmmmm

At 5:32 AM, Blogger gfe--gluten free easily said...

I do some of the same things mentioned here. Lemon in the roasted chicken, lemon with olive oil for salad dressing, lemon bars, etc.

We always feel guilty for rushing through life to get to a good part and leave the old behind, but it is what it is. Yes, we do need to remind ourselves to enjoy and savor every day, but we all do the best we can. So glad the days are much sunnier now! My husband is always saying, "give me lemons, and I'll make lemonade" when he looks at "the glass half full" ... LOL

I didn't know about your history with lemons. Thanks for sharing it. It's silly how your one personal blog had to be stopped. Those are the kinds of ridiculous things that keep people out of teaching. (Often, the serious problems get overlooked. Former teacher here.)

Now, that Lemon Tree song will be in my head all day! ;)


At 1:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everything. Lemon bars with a shortbread base is one of my favourites though. And when my Grandma would finish squeezing a lemon half, she would rub it over her elbows, to keep them soft.

At 7:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lemondade !


At 1:34 AM, Blogger Just Cook It said...

Lovely post, and it's amazing how photogenic lemons are! Funnily enough, I just wrote about lemons too.


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