Sunday, August 29, 2010

SPARE (Random Thoughts on Risotto and Dogs)

by Judy Merrill Larsen

~I love making risotto. This is a new obsession of mine, but one that my family readily embraces. I used to think it was hard or complicated or just something I'd only order in restaurants. But, a few weeks ago we were having dinner at a friend's house and she made shrimp and scallop risotto. I watched as she cooked. It involves lots of stirring (which I can do) and patience (which I'm working on). That night driving home I asked my husband for a risotto cookbook for my upcoming birthday. He delivered. And I've made risotto once a week ever since. I improvise the recipes, but follow the basic procedure. You'll find it in this cookbook. I know there are several methods, but this one is a snap and delivers. And, yes, I spend 30 minutes making it right before dinner. But I can sip wine and talk to my husband while I do so. And the results are spectacular if I say so myself.

~We'd all be happier if we could figure out what we're best at and embrace that part of ourselves. I got this idea from my dog. He's a Golden Retriever. And he takes the "retriever" part very seriously. He also pretty much has his "best day ever" every single day. Whenever he comes in from outside, he immediately grabs/retrieves one of his toys and brings it to me. He does the same thing when someone walks in the door. He grabs his rawhide or circus monkey (don't ask) or stuffed lamb and brings it to them with his tail wagging to beat the band. "Hey," he seems to say, "look, I retrieved." Then he lies down, licks his feet and takes a nap from the utter exhaustion of retrieving and being happy. When we went for a walk the other day, I stopped at the creek to let him drink some water (I didn't have much choice to be honest). He loves drinking from the creek. He lies right down in it and laps it up. This time, there were two ducks swimming about 4 feet from him. He didn't bug them, they weren't fazed. When I mentioned it to him (yes, I talk to him in sentences), he was completely unapologetic. But, if he could talk I think he'd say, "Look, woman-who-feeds-me, I'm a retriever. You shoot the duck, I'll go get it for you. You pick it up and throw it across the yard? I'm your fetcher. But otherwise, I'm leaving them alone."

And it occurs to me that both my risotto making and my dog musings can help me as a writer.

With the risotto, I get to be creative and free and toss things in and veer away from the stated recipe (delete the mushrooms, add more garlic and peppers). I can make it my own story. But, there are certain things that must be not be changed. The basic framework. The arborio rice. The right amount of broth (1 1/2 cups rice to 5 or 5 1/2 cups broth). And in my writing, I get to toss in details that ring true for me. Create characters out of thin air. But, there's got to be conflict. And tension. There must be good dialogue and sharp verbs. I have to work within a structure.

And as far as my dog? Well, I can only be the kind of writer I'm uniquely meant to be. I can't copy anyone else. I can't make myself into a different kind of writer. Not that this means I can't hone my skills and that I won't challenge myself to try new approaches. But it does mean accepting and appreciating the writer I am. I'll be happier. And a better writer for it in the long run.

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