Saturday, June 25, 2011

THE ALISON/DRAGONWAGON PROJECT: Spring Risotto of Artichoke, Lemon, Garlic and Mint

That blur? Not my photography skills. It's steam from this comforting risotto.
Today my sister's best friend from high school, Summer, died. She was 29. In fact, she had just turned 29 on the Summer Solstice, June 21.

Unlike many of us, Summer lived up to her name. My name means "little truthful one," and while I'm known for my frankness--and as a journalist, I seek the truth--sometimes I find it hard to nail down anything as true.

But this I know is true: Summer was bright and warm-hearted. A hug from Summer felt like sunlight.

I was on the road today, working on a story when I found out about Summer. I had planned on returning home at a decent hour, with the goal of making a soothing risotto out of a once-fresh (now-browning) artichoke, arborio rice, some squishy lemons, a fistful of mint leaves, a quarter bottle of leftover white wine and a few cloves of garlic stuck to the bottom of my produce drawer. But it was a steamy day in Georgia, and I returned home rather washed-out, heavy of heart.

I made the risotto anyway. 

You'll notice Crescent Dragonwagon of  "Passionate Vegetarian" dubbed this recipe a "Spring Risotto of Artichoke, Lemon, Garlic and Mint" (p. 488). I bought the ingredients two weeks ago when it was still spring. Now summertime, I felt a little bit like a failure throwing together these fading items. And I felt wasteful if I didn't.

Risotto is a dish that requires patience. There's a lot of stirring. Sometimes it seems as though the rice will never cook fully or get starchy enough. That I'm wasting my time. That it won't be worth the effort. And I don't own a pressure-cooker, so I couldn't try out Dragonwagon's method, which is O.K. because I operate under enormous pressure most of the time that cooking risotto forces me to slow down and meditate. And stir, stir, stir...

I remember "stirring the pot" with Summer back in high school, when I was a staunch Calvinist and she was what I considered a hippy-dippy Arminian. The difference, to anyone who's not aware, is completely trite, even in Christian theological circles. Outside of Christian circles, it's downright insane. Summer and I (and my sister) would bicker after school in her mother's history classroom, and finally, Summer settled the argument by saying we'd find out who was right someday when one of us got to heaven first.

Now it seems Summer's win is everyone's loss.

In the end, this spring risotto tasted Summery. The lemon and mint mingled almost to a mojito-like brightness, but the garlic brought it back to a savory center. I sipped a glass of the white wine that didn't all make it into the dish.

If I didn't live several states away, I'd love to pack up this dish and serve it up in lemony ladlefuls to Summer's family members, who probably in their grief couldn't stomach a bite.

But like most dishes, especially risotto, it's not about the plated result, but rather the process, the story, the journey. 

Summer's path through life was paved with lots of love and light. Her passing just a few days into the season doesn't need to be seen as a total loss or a bitter irony. We'll make of it what we can. We'll savor our memories, Summer after Summer.

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