Slowing Down

On October 20, 2014, in mindfulness, by rita

In my previous blog post, I wrote about “Deep Breathing”. It seemed to strike a chord with many of you. The sentiment I heard back was that, like me, you too are often rushing through your day. You appreciated the idea that “Deep breathing was like a “power break” for our racing minds. That helped inspire the theme for this post i.e. “Slowing down”.turtle and roses Oct '14

It is hard for us to think of slowing down in a world where multi-tasking is the norm and the words “I’ve been so busy” are a badge of honor. It might help to remind ourselves how as children we heard our parents asking us to “Slow Down”. They were warning us because they probably saw us doing something in haste that was not going to end well. As we grow older there is no one to remind us to slow down. So this is a habit that we now have to consciously cultivate and practice ourselves.

Let us begin by understanding why we need to slow down. It is easy to appreciate that doing too much or being rushed can cause us stress. Stress can manifest itself in many ways such as general anxiety, developing a short fuse, being curt with our loved ones,or perhaps committing minor acts of road rage. However what we may not appreciate is that stress can also be contagious.

Have you noticed that when a harried person enters a room, the atmosphere in the room can suddenly change? People are able to pick up on surrounding tension and then become unconsciously agitated themselves. A single person can change the tone in a family or group. So it is important to be aware that when we go faster and faster, we are actually being insensitive to others around us. On the other hand when someone at peace and free from hurry, enters the room, that person can have a calming effect on everyone.

Slowing down is beneficial to us and to those around us. We become peaceful when, when we slow down. Slowing down does not mean we become lazy or lethargic. It simply means we train our minds to be present in the moment. The more we slow down the thinking process, the more we regain control over our lives.

The Buddha calls this “living intentionally”. It is a way of life. Slowing down is not the goal but simply a means to an end. The goal is living in freedom – freedom from the pressure of hurry and distractions. When the mind is unhurried, it is able to make wise choices of how we use our time and resources, and I believe this is within the reach of everyone.

All this is great in theory but how do we put this into practice? In my opinion, it comes all comes down to prioritizing what is most important and must be done and what can be deferred.

Let me describe one simple tool that I personally find useful in helping me prioritize my personal and work tasks. Some of you may already be familiar with this grid diagram popularized by Steven Covey.

I have attached a grid diagram that you could use to prioritize your tasks.

Important Not Important
Not Urgent

The first quadrant is “Urgent and Important”, the second quadrant is “Not Urgent and Important”, the third quadrant is “Not Urgent and Important” and the fourth quadrant is “Not Urgent and Not Important”.

You can list your tasks in the “Important” and “Not Important” categories, with the “Urgent” and “Not Urgent” subcategories. Now look closely at the “Urgent and Important” quadrant. Attend to them first, and when you have the time look at the “Important and Not Urgent” quadrant.

You can ignore the “Not Important and Not Urgent” quadrant tasks completely. After finishing the tasks in the two important categories, you can attend to the “Not Important and Urgent” quadrant. Update this time management diagram on a daily, weekly or on a monthly basis or as needed.

I like to list my tasks in these quadrants to help me prioritize tasks. By prioritizing and organizing my tasks in this way I am able to identify and focus on what is really important and ease my mind of other things that otherwise could conspire to overwhelm me.

To me this is a simple but effective tool. Are there any tools and mechanisms you use to cope with the stresses and pace of modern life? I look forward to your thoughts in the comments below.

References : Take your Time by Eknath Easwaran
Image Credit: Arya Natarajan



On June 20, 2014, in mindfulness, by rita

What is mindfulness ?

According to wikipedia, mindfulness is a meditative practice that has Buddhist origins, and has gained worldwide popularity as a distinctive method to handle emotions. It is a state of equanimity, where one is not disturbed or excited by external circumstances. When you are in this state, you are at peace with yourself, and living your life to the fullest.

Mindfulness is essentially about being present in the moment.

How can one be “present” at all times?

It comes with consistent practice. We must first accept ourselves the way we are now. We are often self critical about ourselves, and that prevents us from trying new things to improve ourselves.  It is very important to be aware of where you are. It is similar to visiting a mall, and checking the map for your favorite clothing apparel store. The first thing is you look for is the “You are here” Sign.

Right now, you are at the “You are here” sign in your life. You may be going through a crisis, celebrating a milestone, working through deadlines, or taking care of a loved one. What are the feelings you are experiencing right now? Are they feelings of joy, contentment, elation, apprehension, fear, anxiety, or sorrow?  They will pass, since everything external to you is ephemeral. Happiness is within you. In order for us not to allow external factors to sway and influence us, we need to be grounded.

To begin this journey, start by taking a small but important step. Try to avoid multi-tasking and do just one thing at a time. For example, when you are having dinner, try eating at the table. Avoid browsing your phone, newspaper or watching TV. Be mindful of what you are eating. Relish the dish and savor the taste.  In fact, you will begin to eat slowly savoring every bite. Studies have shown that when people tend to eat more when they are doing something else while eating.

Multi-tasking is unfortunately ingrained in our culture these days. So you have to consciously work on being engaged with a single task at a time. This is can be quite a lifestyle change for many. For instance, it is practically instinctive to listen to the radio while driving. Instead, concentrate on the road and be aware of your surroundings. In my own life, I try to avoid taking work calls while I am driving. If the call is really urgent, I tell the caller that I will be available shortly. When I drive into a parking lot, I return the call and give my undivided attention to the caller.

Changing long learned behaviors is hard work. So as you try to break the multi-tasking habit, you might find yourself regressing. Recognize that this is okay.  Progress never follows a smooth line. Just try to keep at it. I find that keeping a journal of your progress can be helpful. You may not see a difference in your lifestyle in days, but in a period of weeks and certainly after a few months you will realize that you are indeed changing.

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Christmas Apple Pie

On December 26, 2010, in Desserts, by rita

As we were having Christmas lunch at my friends’ place, I wanted to make a dessert from scratch that her kids would like.  Since Apple pie, is one of their all time favorites, I decided that was it. Since I have made it only once before a few years back I was in need of a good recipe. After scouring the Internet my eyes fell upon this highly rated recipe on the website.  I decided to go with it along with my some of my own modifications. The results exceeded my expectations. It took a bit of effort, but it was all worth it, seeing the empty plates. Don’t get intimidated about the number of steps; I assure you it is well worth it. Have fun with it, just as I did.

My Modifications

As I like to make do with less fat wherever possible, I used 1 Tbsp. less of butter in the crust and in the filling. I added an extra half  pound of apples and a quarter spoon of lemon zest to bring out the zing of the apples. Also, while the recipe called for Granny Smith apples I also added a Pink Lady – a softer apple variety, to thicken the filling.


  • 2.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 13 tbsp cold butter diced
  • 1 large egg beaten with 2 tbsp cold water

Filling Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3.5 lbs granny smith apples. (about 7 granny smith and 1 pink lady)
  • 2/3 cup sugar plus more for sprinkling
  • 1.5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 generous pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp lemon zest – optional


  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.
  2. Using your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles yellow corn meal mixed with bean sized bits of butter.(If the flour/butter mixture gets warm, refrigerate it for 10 minutes before proceeding.)
  3. Add the egg and stir the dough together with a fork or by hand in the bowl.If the dough is dry, sprinkle up to a tablespoon more of cold water over the mixture.
  4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 hour.


  1. Put the lemon juice in a medium bowl.
  2. Peel, halve, and core the apples. Cut each half into 4 wedges.
  3. Toss the apple with the lemon juice. Add the sugar and toss to combine evenly. We add lemon juice to avoid the browning of the apples due to oxidation.
  4. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.
  5. Add the apples, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to simmer, about 2 minutes.
  6. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until the apples soften and release most of their juices, about 7 minutes.
  7. Strain the apples in a colander over a medium bowl to catch all the juice. Shake the colander to get as much liquid as possible.
  8. Return the juices to the skillet, and simmer over medium heat until thickened and lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.
  9. In a medium bowl, toss the apples with the reduced juice, cinnamon, lemon zest and nutmeg. Set aside to cool completely.
  10. Cut the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll one half of dough into a disc about 11 to 12 inches wide. Keep the other half in the refrigerator.
  11. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  12. Line the bottom of a 9 inch pie pan with one of the discs of dough, and trim it so it lays about 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pan. I had a 9.5 inch pan, and and adjusted the trim accordingly.
  13. Arrange the apple slices in a concentric manner, so that the pan is now filled. I interleaved the apple slices, to maximize the space of the pan.
  14. Take the remaining half od the dough from the refrigerator, and roll out a similar disk. Fold the top layer of dough under the edge of the bottom layer and press the edges together to form a seal. Flute the edge as desired. If you have extra dough, you can cut it into desired  shapes, and place it on top of the crust.
  15. Brush the surface of the dough with egg wash.
  16. Pierce the top of the dough in several places to allow steam to escape while baking. This is crucial to avoid an oven disaster!
  17. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
  18. Bake the pie on a baking sheet until the crust is golden, about 50 minutes. Enjoy the aroma that will be wafting in the kitchen while the pie is baking. Hmmmm.
  19. Cool on a rack before serving. The pie keeps well at room temperature (covered)  for 24 hrs, or refrigerated for 4 days.

The Verdict

The crust was flakey and just right even with the lesser than recommended amount of butter I used. Adding the Pink Lady helped hold the filling together better. The filling was not runny. Pre-cooking the apples, helped fill the pie completely without leaving any air pockets. The lemon zest was not overpowering and helped bring out the sweetness of the apples. Sprinkling the sugar after baking helped avoid the brown streaks from caramelization typically seen on pie crusts.

Judging from the empty plates, the recipe was a success!

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