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The Mindfulness of Making Pesto

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

When you make as much pesto as we do for a living, you'd think you would eventually get bored. As it happens, however, the very opposite is true. The relaxed focus that arises from doing a repetitive, physical task is deeply satisfying, and perhaps under-appreciated in a world that tends to value the work of the mind over the body.

I find myself looking forward to our days at the commercial kitchen, when I can spend time with fellow food professionals, all quietly but intently focused on the task at hand. The soothing, familiar tasks of washing the basil, measuring the other ingredients, and blending the sauces help to calm the clutter in my mind, enabling me to think, plan and daydream in a gentle, open-minded way that is restorative, rather than draining. It's the same feeling I get whenever I chop vegetables for dinner or stirring risotto, soups, and stews on the stove - all activities I highly recommend as therapeutic ways to de-stress.

The act of making pesto also involves all the senses, making it a naturally mindful activity. On a visceral level, it's simply impossible to make such a pungent sauce, and not find yourself assaulted by the heady, almost primal fragrance of fresh basil and raw garlic - a complex combination of olfactory sensations that compels you to pay attention, and that generally results in an overwhelming craving for a bowl of pesto pasta right then and there. Even after all these years of making it professionally, it's usually the first thing I want to eat when I get home.

I also find myself still noticing fresh new details about the sauce, or the process of making it, each time - like how much variation there is in the texture, shape and color of basil and arugula, depending on the season or the source; or how much louder and clumsier I am in the kitchen when I arrive feeling stressed, until I remind myself to slow down. If I weren't making the sauce so regularly and in such quantity over the years, I probably wouldn't notice these nuances, but I am always delighted, and grateful when I do. It's a wonderful reminder that doing the same things over and over need not be monotonous if you take the time to slow down and pay attention. You never know when you might just learn something new.

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