It has been three hundred and ninety-two days since I last made my risotto, and it is not the number of dishes holding me back from preparing once more. It is the deeply enmeshed memory of Krystal which now holds my spatula for ransom.
The recipe begins with bacon, one of my favorite foods, slow-cooked in a pan, with the rebellious intent of letting the drippings remain. Any other method of cooking that cracking meat brings to mind my best friend and how we bonded over bacon sandwiches slapped together on cheap white Wonder bread. This slow preparation is the only method that makes me think of her.
While the bacon slowly turns from pink to white, its aroma filling the whole house, a second scent joins it in the air, one which is known for making people cry. Three onions fall prey to a fine julienne from my knife. Yet no onions could me make cry the way that her absence has.
Sometimes I would let her sous for me because she, unlike so many friends and family (who have the best intents of being helpful, however rueful the results), knows the difference between a fine chop, a thin slice, and careful mince. She also never questioned my insistence on Arborio rice for the recipe despite her personal preference for all things Jasmine.
Cremini Mushrooms join the onions and bacon after nearly an hour of slow caramelization, their soft bodies ready and willing to soak up the flavor of their neighbors in abundance. There were always a few that never made it into the pan. Happy little pieces devoured by her smiling mouth with the ever-expected comment of her preference for mushrooms with ranch. No party tray ever holds mushrooms at the end of the night when she is in attendance.
Next, the rice finally makes its entrance into the dish, accompanied by two cups of warm broth, marking the beginning of near-constant attention and stirring. Where before things were left to simmer, now they require attention. Maybe if I had not left her to simmer, if I had paid the proper attention, she would still be here.
Sips of wine held place for the pauses in conversation as I stirred and tended the dish like a warm fire in winter. One ladle added at a time, absorbed slowly turns sticky rice into a creamy dish. The wine, likewise, would warm our cheeks the same way she warmed my heart, the way thoughts of her warm it still.
Variety is the spice of life, or so the saying goes, and I always try to include plenty of spice in both dishes and life. Nutmeg was always my secret ingredient in the risotto, adding a sweet richness to the dish. Not all spices go together, and not every moment needs more salt, especially when dealing with open wounds. Though perhaps now I could use some fresh salt to clean out the infection or preserve the memory more cleanly.
When everything is said and done, you plate the dish, top with a gentle sprinkling of ricotta, and serve with a smile. She had the most beautiful smile.
But, like a dish left too long without stirring, what we turned black and some things once burned are beyond salvage.
So, I no longer make risotto. I miss it, I crave it, but I no longer have the stomach to make it.
Every author has their own process for writing—or so I have been told. Mine involves Beethoven, a class of Amarone, and if I am in it for the long haul for the day, a good meal. When I get in the zone for writing I often lose track of time and forget to eat (to the point of brain fog when my empty stomach negatively affects my cognitive processes) So, I like to prepare a meal in advance and have something next to me as the words flow. I would like to say that I pick foods based on taste or region in order to have them inspire my work, but the simple truth is that I just like the company of something tasty. Whether working on a novel or an essay, a good meal is just as necessary to me as my very keyboard.
Aside from the food and wine I imbibe while writing, there is another very important way that food plays into my writing: inspiration. Inspiration and motivation that comes from meals shared with friends, family and those I love. When I am meeting someone new, a dinner out is a fantastic thing. When I want to get to know someone better, that is when I take things to my own kitchen. I love to cook and I love to show love through my cooking. I always ask my future guests what their favorite foods are and if there is anything they hate. I cook whatever they ask if it’s within my power, and if they say “surprise me”…I cook Risotto.
Marissa Walker is a writer, reader, and unabashed foodie. She lives in a little house on the east coast, where she spends her days filling far too many notebooks while everyone from Beethoven to Metallica keeps her company. Her writing can be found at: wattpad.com/user/MarissaWalkerWriter. Updates, sneak peeks and general book love can be found on her Tiktok: @Marissawalkerwriter