Friday, February 26, 2010

Halcyon Days

Maybe it comes from watching too much British crime drama on educational television. Maybe I think about my digestive habits a bit too much. Or maybe it's my 10:30pm bedtime (I lied just now, it's more like 10pm) But lately, at the tender age of 32, I've begun to tell stories like an old person; equal parts fond reminiscences and wistfulness at how much things have changed. I find it hard to believe sometimes that when I was a kid, computers had only just entered the fray, in the form of condo-sized boxes available in the school library. IPods? Cell phones? We had a record player and a rotary phone growing up, which I suppose would be considered by some as the technological equivalent to a gramophone and an ear trumpet.

Nostalgia for a 'simpler time' always seemed like the provenance of grandparents. But when I see kids on the bus, or in the mall food courts, and I hear the way a lot of them butcher the English language while regaling their questionable parent-free exploits, I long for the golden days of my youth. The F-Word hadn't made its way into my vocabulary till I was well into my teens. I kissed a boy for the first time when I was 13; prior to that, they were simply names with hearts around them on pages in diaries. And winter, winter was a marvellous time as a kid. My dad would get out the toboggan, an old-fashioned wonder of wood and glue and rope, and the four of us would go to Eglinton Park and fly down the hills as many times as we could climb back up again.

Afterwords we'd tramp home, exhausted and rosy-cheeked, and make hot chocolate and what my Dad christened "Cheese-thingees"; English muffins, halved and topped with cheese and decorated with olives in the design of happy faces. These would go under the broiler and get all melty and salty and my fingers would get greasy as I ate. Never would I have thought at the time that this would become a lovely memory to be pulled out years later for comfort. But it's been snowing, snowing like the Canadian winters of my childhood, with slightly blustering winds and the scrape of shovels clearing sidewalks and a collectively half-pleased/half-despairing Torontonian population nodding greetings to one another.

And with this cold weather, I find myself craving simple, starchy food to warm my insides. Wanting something a bit more substantial than Cheese Thingees, I decided upon a mushroom risotto I saw here, with a hit of lemon and Parmesan. With a dear friend coming over for dinner, I set to work as soon as I got home from work. The dog was not pleased that I'd had to forgo her walk; she made this patently clear by positioning herself in front of the fridge and making Sad Eyes at me. The cat insisted on following me everywhere and rubbing up against my legs. After repeated contact of human foot and beast tail, both were politely asked to leave the kitchen.

I'd never made risotto before, and it was a lot simpler than I thought. It just needed a bit of babysitting and continuous stirring; I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I can't leave anything unattended for even a second on my unevenly heated stove. To round out the meal, my friend put together a gorgeous salad with berries and nuts and blue cheese, and we ate mini cheesecakes I'd made the night before. We talked and laughed and got really, really full and it occured to me that nostalgia is a lovely place to visit once in a while. But the present, ripe with homecooked food, family and friends and an Almost Marriage, can be a pretty sweet place to live.

Here is the recipe for the risotto. Having followed it to the letter, which is very painful for me to do, I would make some changes the next time around. I found the amount of lemon zest called for was undetectable; I would increase the amount to the zest of half a lemon. Or if your palette needs to be hit on the head with a hammer, like mine does, the zest of a whole lemon. And a squeeze of lemon juice added just before serving. Zing! I would also increase the amount of wine from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. I love cooking with wine, and found I could barely taste it in the end result. Lastly, I skipped the parsley because I don't like it, and used thyme instead, which I loved!

*Lemon Mushroom Risotto, Gourmet Magazine, via Eat Live Travel Write:

2 2/3 cups boiling-hot water
1/2 oz dried
porcini mushrooms
3 cups chicken broth

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

1/2 lb small
cremini mushrooms, quartered 1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
Arborio rice (8 oz)
1/4 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest

1/4 cup finely grated
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. Pour 2/3 cup hot water over porcini in a heatproof cup and let stand until softened, about 10 minutes. Lift porcini out of water, squeezing excess liquid back into cup, and rinse well to remove any grit. Coarsely chop porcini. Pour soaking liquid through a paper-towel-lined sieve into a glass measure and reserve.

2. Meanwhile, bring broth and remaining 2 cups hot water to a simmer. Keep at a bare simmer, covered.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté cremini, stirring, until browned, about 7 minutes. Add porcini and reserved soaking liquid to skillet and boil, stirring, 1 minute. Remove from heat.

4. Cook onion in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until absorbed.

5. Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth mixture and cook at a strong simmer, stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition become absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender but still al dente and creamy (it should be the consistency of a thick soup), 18 minutes. (There will be leftover broth.)

6. Stir in zest, mushrooms, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, parmesan, parsley, and pepper to taste. (If necessary, thin risotto with some of remaining broth.) Serve immediately.

*Instructions come directly from Eat Live Travel Write's post. I take no credit for it!


  1. Congratulations on your first risotto, I am sure you will make many, many more! They are one of my favorite things to make, though I rarely measure anything anymore.

  2. Thanks Katerina! I'm already dreaming of new recipes - Cheese? Starch? Veggies? What's not to love about risotto?!